If Jesus already came and we know that God is with us right now through the Holy Spirit, then how can we still sing this song with any meaning?
O Come, O Come Emmanuel–this prayer should change your perspective during the Christmas season. It represents Longing. Aching. Yearning. Hoping.
The mood at the time of the birth of Christ
We know this song was written long after the birth of Christ, but let’s apply the lyrics to that time to see why we can understand the mood.
What we call the “Intertestamental Period,” between Malachi and Matthew was roughly 400 years. There is no record of God speaking during that time. Much was changing in the political landscape and impacting the Israelites. The first divine revelation since the intertestamental period came through an angel, Gabriel, who told Zechariah, a priest, that he would have a son. Zechariah’s son, John (the Baptist), was the forerunner to the Messiah who would come.
Imagine being in that time period: Longing. Aching. Yearning. Hoping. Four hundred years without hearing from God. Changes in government. Different rulers, some of whom leave you alone and others who don’t. You’d be longing for the Messiah.
Now we are back to the same question: how can we still sing this song? Let me argue that:
We should still have the same mood.
Romans 8:22-25 is a great passage to show us that we should still be longing, aching, yearning, and hoping, even though the Messiah has come and He has accomplished the work of redemption that has secured our salvation for all eternity.
22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.
God cursed the ground as a result of sin entering the world (Gen 3:17-18). All creation has been groaning in pains of childbirth, waiting for the joy that would come.
We can understand the pains of childbirth. It hurts, but a woman perseveres because a great joy is coming. In the same way, the whole creation is subjected to pains like childbirth. The verse before tells us the great joy coming for the physical creation: v.21– it is set free from this bondage and decay it is subjected to.
23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit,
One commentator describes the firstfruits of the Spirit as “Spirit as a foretaste of the future” (Conybeare & Howson, The Life & Epistle of St. Paul).
It is likely a reference to the Holy Spirit, who is a guarantee of our faith and that which is yet to come, like Paul mentions in 2 Cor. 5:5. We have the firstfruits of the Spirit—there is more to come.
[we] groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
Here is the “now/not yet” of our salvation. Though we have Christ and our salvation is secure (NOW), inwardly we still groan for something more that is to come (NOT YET).
Do you realize that what you are experiencing right now as a believer in Christ is not all that you’ll ever experience with Him? There is much more to come. You have the salvation of Christ and all its blessings right now in your life. But you still have the not yet waiting for you!
This verse says we eagerly await our adoption—this is interesting because just earlier in this chapter (14-17), Paul writes of our adoption as God’s children in the past tense.
You are adopted by God in the sense that you are saved and you are His child (NOW). But verse 23 refers to the full culmination of our adoption, which is the glorification of our bodies (NOT YET).
We groan inwardly as we live in the now because we know that right now is not the end.
24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
Hope is a key theme in this passage, appearing 5 times just in verses 24-25.
We hope for what we do not see because we have not obtained that glorious inheritance yet. What we have right now is finished, fully sufficient. We were saved. It’s done.We are saved. And it changes your life right now, giving you purpose.
Now, when we sing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” we are not just thinking about the birth of Jesus. We are thinking about His coming again, about the time we will experience His full glory, which we have not yet seen. Longing. Aching. Yearning. Hoping.
We are still in a sinful, fallen world and experiencing its effects.
Death takes away.
Disease leads to misery.
Calamity still strikes.
In Sutherland Springs, TX, they are Longing. Aching. Yearning. Hoping.
In Las Vegas, NV, they are Longing. Aching. Yearning. Hoping.
We are still waiting for “…the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:7).
We are still waiting for final deliverance “from the wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1:10).
We are still waiting “for the hope of righteousness” (Galatians 5:5).
We are Longing. Aching. Yearning. Hoping. So yes, we still sing O Come, O Come Emmanuel. God, be with us. Finally, eternally, in glory.