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O Come, O Come Emmanuel


In our exile and desolation, God comes. The God who created the world and everything in it, the God who formed man from dust—his arrival changes the story.

My favorite Christmas song is “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” I’ve heard a lot of versions of this song, but it’s hard to find a good one. You can sing the notes perfectly but miss all the emotion. This song expresses such deep longing for freedom that it’s almost impossible to sing without tears of joy and desperation. “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” helps us explore life’s trouble and our need for help, and it’s a call to rejoice in the God who rescues.

God comes in our captivity

We’re all enslaved to something. We’re enslaved to the kind of sins that tell us what we should look like, how we should act, and who we should try to please. We are born into sin’s slavery, but we also sign up for it. We give sin a key to the front door of our hearts, so it comes in and wrecks us even further. Even when we try to do what’s right, we give in to temptation so easily. Our sin exiles us from God and from one another, and our bodies and souls waste away in what feels like a desert.

But sometimes we realize the deceitfulness of sin. Like waking from a deep sleep, our eyes acclimate to seeing things as they truly are, and our hearts groan to be free. We thought all along we were fine, but for a split second, we recognize that we’re dying and alone, and that’s our own fault. We cry out with Paul, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24).

In our exile and desolation, God comes. The God who created the world and everything in it, the God who formed man from dust—his arrival changes the story. The name “Emmanuel” means “God with us,” and we’re shocked to learn that the great Creator and King could be with us, the dirty, dying, hopeless people who signed up for slavery. God loves us in our exile, and we who know our captivity and starvation sing out for joy because the God who is with us is on his way!

God’s arrival means our rescue

The God who enters our captivity is the God who rescues us from it. “God with us” isn’t just a nickname—it’s a person. Jesus, fully God and fully human, was born as a baby, like us. He grew up; he survived the awkward teenage years; he learned a trade. The prophet Isaiah foretold a child would be born who would bring an end to the captivity of God’s people (Isaiah 9:6), and Jesus fulfilled his prophecy.

Because Jesus was born like us, lived, and died, we can know that Jesus truly understands what it’s like to be human. Because Jesus was fully God, he lived a sinless life, his death paid the penalty for sin, and his resurrection proves his sacrifice was enough to break sin’s hold on us. Through faith in Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection, our relationship with God can be restored. No longer do we waste away in exile—now God’s power is working to repair sin’s wreckage.

Because Jesus was with us, we know God sympathizes with our weakness and susceptibility to sin (Hebrews 4:15-16). We know Jesus gave us a Helper who will be with us always (John 14:16-17). We know he is restoring all things (Psalm 53:6, 1 Peter 5:10), and that while the wreckage of sin will continue a little longer, God will once again come to us to give us unending joy (John 16:16-24). One day, this will come true: “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore” (Isaiah 9:7, emphasis added).

Our hope is coming. Joy that never runs dry is on its way. God was with us when Jesus was born, God is with us now as the Spirit lives in us, and God will be with us when Jesus returns and restores the world to the way it should be. By faith, we sing with hope for the day Jesus comes again. So this year, let’s sing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” remembering our need and rejoicing in our Rescuer.