O Come, Emmanuel

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear:
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, o Israel!

It’s been stuck in my head for days now, maybe a couple of weeks, with the traditional lyrics. We UU’s are infamous for reading ahead in the hymnal to see if we agree with the words, and our hymnals have modernized the lyrics to many traditional hymns. I prefer a lot of the new words on theological grounds, but this is one where I feel something deep has been lost in the revision. And so I wrestle with the traditional lyrics and the theology that bore them.

I have been doing that a lot lately — wrestling I mean, with ideas that are simultaneously old and new, familiar and strange. Growth is like that, I guess. There is so much I do not know.

But the more you know, the more you realize you do not know – something that stuck from the sermon I heard Sunday. Not a new idea, but one I really needed to be reminded of right now. (Maybe why I needed to be in service this week. We’d considered trying to have a Christmas Eve music rehearsal during the service due to conflicting schedules, but I protested that I’d been “on” with the choir for the last two Sundays and it was my turn to be in the pew, darn it. One thing leadership has taught me is that, as good as it is to be up front and making the worship happen, I also need from time to time to be in the back and receiving the message as it comes.)

It is entirely too easy to fall into the vortex of suck that starts with “I am so small and there is so much I do not understand” and ends up with me either wanting to crawl under a rock and wait for the world to be over, or the alternative of beating myself up for being inadequate, realizing I’m not supposed to be doing that, and then beating myself up for beating myself up… I can look at this malfunctioning process and say, “y’know, this just doesn’t work very well, I really need to try and make better mistakes next time,” but knowing that and successfully implementing it are entirely different creatures.

O come, Emmanuel, the Holy Mystery made present among us, and get me out of this pit where I wrestle with these particular angels.

That was the other thing that stuck from Sunday, that rang true for me as a seeker – the call to find meaning and make meaning in things, even when the meaning isn’t obvious. We are after all meaning-making monkeys; it’s how we are wired, how we survive. I bounced off that a little bit in yesterday’s post; later maybe I will dig deeper. I am tumbling the gem of an idea that there is not only one meaning in a thing: an event, an object, a set of words. I am thinking of the layers of meaning that come from examining through different lenses, different frames: a carved statue might be a woodworker’s practice exercise, but that doesn’t mean it can’t also be a deep spiritual symbol for one choosing to take it so. The anguished cry to the heavens, “Why?” – to answer that depends on the underlying question: by what means? from what source or cause? to what end and purpose?

O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appear…

It is the darkening end of the darkening quarter of the solar year. The night is cold and raw, fresh snow giving way to particles of ice on the wind. A town a few hours away from here will bury twenty little children the week before Christmas. It takes longer for these things to get to me than it does a lot of people; this is a mixed blessing. I fear being taken for heartless when I’m really just getting done what needs to be done in the moment, knowing that when the crisis is out of my hands I can go off someplace and turn into a complete bowl of pudding. But people don’t generally get to see that part.

In the midst of life, we are in death… The words from the requiem mass juxtapose themselves in my soul against the pagan imagery of the solstices. On the longest day of the summer begins the fading into darkness; on the longest night of the winter the light begins to be reborn. But it is not time yet; we are still waiting in the cold and the dark and wondering whether the light and warmth will ever return.

It is in-between-time, and I do not have answers either.

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear:
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, o Israel!

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