Daily Advent Devotions from Church Street UMC
Wednesday, December 16
By Rev. Catherine Nance
O Come, O Come Emmanuel
Read Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:22-23
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).
It is one of the first “Christmas Carols” I remember learning as a child. Although I could not read many of the hard words in the hymnal, I could sing out on the refrain! Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel. I would sing out, REEEE-joice! Reeee-joice! Eeee-manuel …
It was not until I was in youth choir that I learned to sing Rih-jose and Ih-mahn-u-ehl. Even now while singing alone, I try to pay attention to my vowels and my East Tennessee dialect. The words and melody are still meaningful; perhaps even more so with the softer, less twangy, syllable!
There are things we learn about Advent and Christmas as children that are precious to us. As we grow older, some of those childhood assumptions and ‘knowledge’ are replaced with footnotes from the Bible and a little bit of study. I will not tell you how old I was before I grasped that shepherds and wise men never appear together in the gospels. But no harm is done when we put them on the stage together for the children’s pageant. Sorting out traditions with the Biblical story is a good spiritual exercise.
When I studied Isaiah’s text that Matthew borrows, it was difficult not to read ‘little baby Jesus’ where Isaiah writes ‘the child.’ Instead, God is assuring King Ahaz that the threat of world powers warring at his borders will not last forever. Things appear horribly now, Ahaz! But look! There is a young woman about to give birth. Before that child is two or three years old, all this will be over! The child’s name is Immanuel which means God is with us. Matthew borrows those powerful words as a poignant reminder that God has been at work all along. God has always been about seeking peace and justice. I find it so helpful to look at the words our Gospel writers and hymn writers borrow from the Hebrew Scriptures. Emmanuel, Wisdom, Root of Jesse, Dayspring, and others give a depth to ‘little baby Jesus’ that causes me to understand Messiah more fully. Rejoice! Rejoice!
O God who is always with us, thank you for making your eternal message accessible to us all of our days. When we dread the days ahead, encourage us to look back and remember how you have been at work in our family, our community, and our world for generations. Amen.
Rev. Catherine Nance is the Senior Pastor at Church Street and wrote this devotion in honor of the Parish Youth Choir at Church Street United Methodist Church.