Advent 1 – "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" – 12/2/12

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The clever serpent told Adam and Eve that they did not need to be dependent upon God, they could be like God. They could be as God is, all-wise, almighty, all-knowing, faithful, good, merciful, gracious and love just like God is all of these. And as everyone knows, it’s better to be independent than dependent on someone.

And God let them go. He gave them their independence. “You want to move out of my house, then out of my house you go.” “You want to be the captain of your own ship, then sail on sailor.” “You want to be self-sufficient, then suffice for yourself.”

It didn’t take very long for Adam and Eve to realize that the serpent DECEIVED them. He said that they could ‘be like God.’ And they believed the serpent. They trusted his word. He DECEIVED them. And they fell for it. A ‘talking serpent.’ They should’ve known something was wrong about that. So much for being “all-wise.”

And so much for being almighty and all-knowing, faithful, good, merciful, gracious and love like God is all of these. Independent of God they were none of these. They became what each of these divine attributes become when they are cut off from the divinity. All-wise becomes foolishness. Almighty becomes weakness. All-knowing become ignorance. Faithful becomes untrustworthy. Good becomes bad, merciful becomes ruthless and love becomes selfishness and jealousy and lust and greed and privacy that blocks out the cries of the needy and a sick pleasure in seeing someone else fail.

The serpent DECEIVED them. And they were DECIVED. And so are we. They wanted their independence from God and so do we. They could not be ‘like God,’ and neither can we. They suffered the consequences of their disbelief and so do we.

And they could not fix what they had broken, their relationship with God, and neither can we. They could not repair the damage THEY did to the Creation that was “very good,” or root out the disappointment and despair and death that THEY injected into it, no matter how many programs and policies they instituted. And neither can we.

They left the Father’s house because they didn’t like His insistence on ruling over every aspect of their life. But now they live under the rule of another master who also insists on controlling every aspect of their life – only this one does not love us. And we are sick of eating the food that pigs eat. Our belly is filled with the food of bitterness and resentment and sorrow and disappointment and suffering and death.

We long to return to the Father’s house. We long to be reconciled to God whom we have made our enemy. We long to return to the way it used to be, in the beginning, when we were ‘dependent upon God and ‘everything was very good.’

But what are we to do? We are lost, we are blind, we are fools, we are weak, we are like sheep who have gone astray, each to his own way. And the world is filled with darkness and getting darker by the day.

Our only hope, is that God, who is all-wise and almighty, and all-knowing and merciful and faithful, good, merciful, gracious and love will COME TO US and forgive us and reconcile us to Himself and undo the damage that WE have done and be the ‘light that enlightens the darkness of our lives,’ and make all things new again.

And this is just what He has promised to do. And in faith and trust in His Word and promise, we join our voices to Adam and Eve’s and all those before us and cry out, “COME.”
• “Savior of the Nations, COME! Virgin’s Son make here your home!” (LSB #332)
• “Redeemer, COME and open wide my heart to Thee; here, Lord abide! O enter with thy grace divine; thy face of mercy on me shine.” (LSB #340)
• “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” “O Come, O Come Thou Wisdom from on High,” “O Come, O Come, Thou Lord of might.” (LSB #357).

Welcome to Advent. The word “Advent” comes from the Latin, “Adventus,” which means “to come.”

This morning, we sang three stanzas of an Advent hymn that the Church has been singing at least since the 12th century , “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” Sing that 1st stanza again with me now:
“O COME, O COME EMMANUEL,
AND RANSOM CAPTIVE ISRAEL,
THAT MOURNS IN LONELY EXILE HERE,
UNTIL THE SON OF GOD APPEARS.”
“REJOICE, REJOICE! EMMANUEL SHALL COME TO THEE, O ISRAEL!”

“Emmanuel.” It’s a Hebrew word made up of three parts. “Em” means “with.” “Manu” means 'us.' And “El” is short for “Elohim,” the word for God. Literally it’s “God with us.”
• “God with us” in the darkness, in the disease, in the sorrow, in the pain.
• “God with us” in our sin and in our death.

In His incredible prophesy, Isaiah declares, “Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” (Is.7:14). And for seven centuries, those who believe and trust in the Word and Promise of God prayed, “O Come! O Come Emmanuel!”

And then, one day in a little village called Nazareth, an angel appeared to a man named Joseph and said, “Joseph, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” And St. Matthew writes, “All of this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 'Behold the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call Him Immanuel.” And then Matthew translates in case you don’t know Hebrew, “Which means “God with us.” (Mat.1:22)

Jesus is “God with us.” Conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, God became flesh and “dwelt among us.” He is “Pleased as Man with man to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel.” “For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” (Col.1:19-20).

He has COME, just as He promised His would, to “RANSOM CAPTIVE ISRAEL.”

“Israel” is the people of God – and so you are a true Israelite because you are the people of God. And the people of God are in “captivity.” Isaiah was referring directly to Israel’s captivity under the Babylonians, but even more directly to the captivity of everyone under our sin. We were born in captivity. We cannot set ourselves free from our captivity to our sin. “The good that we want to do we do not do, but the evil that we hate, that we do.” Why? Because we are 'captive to the law of sin that dwells in us.' (Rom.7).

One of the great problems that we “Israelites” have is that we are very good at adapting to our surroundings. We learn to adjust to the situation. We assimilate and learn to call our “captivity” “normal.”

If you've ever had to move you know what I'm talking about. When the movers take the furniture out of the house, you see all of the dirt and the dust bunnies and you’re shocked that you’ve been living in this for who knows how long and it never bothered you. You were perfectly comfortable living in this filth. In fact, you called it 'home sweet home.'

Did you know that when Cyrus the Great told the Israelites who had been held in captivity in Babylon for 70 years that they were free to leave and go home, only a very few actually did so. The vast majority had gotten so comfortable in captivity that they called Babylon home sweet home. And we are the same in our captivity to sin.

So the STRICKING thing, the GREAT thing about this 'antiphon' that sets the theme for all of the others that we will examine during this season of Advent, is that it expresses the fervent longing of the child of God WHO SEES HIS CAPTIVITY TO SIN and HATES IT and deeply desires to be set free from it and return home – to live as a captive of the gospel, a captive to the Law of God and be dependent upon God as a little child is dependent on His parents; as a sheep is dependent on its shepherd.

Here is the poignant plea, not of one who is adapted or adjusted to his captivity to sin, but who “mourns in lonely exile here.”

“O COME, O COME, EMMANUEL.” “RANSOM CAPTIVE ISRAEL.”
• “We’ve sold ourselves into captivity for a pot of stew
• or acceptance by others
• or some fleeting pleasure
• or the hope of getting rich.
And now we are broke, physically, mentally, emotionally, morally, spiritually. Who will ransom us? Who will pay the price to set us free? “O COME, O COME EMMANUEL.” “RANSOM CAPTIVE ISRAEL.”

Don't get all hung up on who the ransom price is paid to. We talk like this all the time without referring to an economic transaction. When Arthur breaks a swimming record and Tiana is recognized for an outstanding Cross-Country track season, it's because they paid the price – hard work and training. We say that those who served in the military have 'paid the price' for our freedom. We don't ask who they paid the price to. But a price had to be paid.

Emmanuel, “God With Us,” paid the price for our release from our captivity to sin. And the price that He paid was His life.
• His life – the ransom for our life.
• His captivity to the cross – the ransom for our freedom from sin.
• His exile from God the Father – the ransom for our return to the Father's house.
• “You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ.” (1Peter 1:18-19).

Isaiah prophesied, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me… He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives…to set at liberty those who are oppressed…” And Jesus says, “today, this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:18). “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45) “If the Son sets you free, you shall be free indeed.” (John 8:36).

Welcome home captives. Welcome home you prisoners of sin and death. Emmanuel has set you free from your captivity and has made you a “prisoner of hope.” (Zech. 9:12)

______________

Did you know that when those who had been exiles in Babylon did return to Jerusalem with Ezra and Nehemiah, they quickly discovered that they were not welcomed with open arms. The foreigners who now inhabited Jerusalem resented their return and did all that they could to make their life miserable. Life for the prisoners now set free was not easy. They had to defend their freedom and resist the temptation to adapt to the culture and assimilate to their surroundings and return to their captivity to sin.

It's like that for us too. We are the people of God and Jesus has paid the ransom for our release from our captivity to sin. But our life in this world is not easy. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that we are becoming less and less welcome here, and we are facing is more and more resistance. We are surrounded by temptations to return to the captivity from which Christ has set us free.

Emmanuel has ransomed captive Israel, BUT THIS IS NOT OUR HOME. Or if it is, it is surely a 'home away from home.' Another hymn puts it like this, 'I'm but a stranger here. Heaven is my home.'

And so, even though God is with us, hidden under the water of holy baptism, and under the bread and wine of holy communion, and in the words of holy absolution, and the preaching of His Word, and even though we have been set from captivity to sin and death by His precious blood, we still have a deep longing for that day when He comes again, not hidden, but fully revealed in all of His glory.

We still “MOURN IN LONELY EXILE UNTIL THE SON OF GOD APPEARS.” For we know from His Word that when He comes again, on the clouds and with His angels, the great paradigm shift will take place, and the emphasis then will not be on the fact that God is with us, but that we are with God and all things will be new.

“REJOICE, REJOICE! EMMANUEL SHALL COME TO THEE, O ISRAEL!”

Sing with me once more:
“O COME, O COME EMMANUEL,
AND RANSOM CAPTIVE ISRAEL,
THAT MOURNS IN LONELY EXILE HERE,
UNTIL THE SON OF GOD APPEARS.”
“REJOICE, REJOICE! EMMANUEL SHALL COME TO THEE, O ISRAEL!”

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