Countdown to Christmas: Day 3. "O Come, O Come Emmanuel"

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

O come, Desire of nations, bind All peoples in one heart and mind;

Bid envy, strife and quarrels cease; Fill the whole world with heaven’s peace.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

I remember hearing this song at Magdalen College at the University of Oxford. It’s melancholy and evocative, a rich juxtaposition of a present pain and a future hope. In a world scarred by division, this prayerful invitation is as relevant as ever.

“O come, Desire of nations, bind all people in one heart and mind.”

In ancient Greek, the language of the New Testament, the word for “nations” is “ethnos.” It can also be translated, “race” or “peoples.” In this hymn then, Christ is the desire, not of countries or nation states, but of every tribe and ethnicity. One of the distinguishing characteristics of faith in Christ is that it’s not limited to one people group; there’s no specific birthright or language required for inclusion in the people of God.

There’s a current school of thought that claims the rifts between different races and worldviews are vast and unbridgeable. According to this “clash of civilizations” model, there’s no real shot at getting some tribes (whether they’re bound by gender, language, race or ideology) to sit at the same table.

But this hymn-writer won’t stop hoping. He or she believes there are threads that bind all of humanity together, that a unity of heart and mind among disparate groups is possible through the person of Christ. So it continues “bid envy, strife and quarrels cease; Fill the whole world with heaven’s peace.”

Where do envy, strife and quarrels run rampant in your world this Christmas? In chaotic family dynamics? In under-handed office politics? Petty neighborhood drama? Gossip-fueled arguments among friends? 

Does Emmanuel, the God who walks with us, will for peace to break in and wash over these scenarios? Then the prayer is worth praying. “God, will you bid the end of tensions and overwhelm it with your peace? And, as you do, show me what part I’m to play in ending strife and speaking peace.”

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Craig Custance