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.
The words of the famous carol reproduced above captures beautifully the sense of longing that advent should breathe within us.
Emptiness that can only be filled by the coming of the source of all good things.
Living in a world dominated by the insidious messages of materialism and consumerism, it is worth stopping for a short while to remember that the acquisition of ‘stuff’ doesn’t really ever fill us. In a way, recognising our emptiness is the starting point for our awakening from a life spent ignoring it…or at least desperately trying to fill it with something that takes away the edge of pain and uncertainty. Our hope, instead, is based in the One who tells us that the first shall be last, and that those who are willing to lose everything are those who instead will find all that they can ever need or want.
Longing leads to freedom…
Freedom needed from that which enslaves us.
When we recognise that we’re trying to cover up the emptiness within us, we are in a position to be able to be freed from the desire to fill that emptiness. Slavery is that which dehumanises us, destroys our individuality and forces us into a life driven by the wants and needs of others. We lose too the ability to recognise how our actions lead to the oppression and slavery of others – the weak, the vulnerable, the least. Those wants and needs are projected on to us by a world trying to dull our senses and our ability to recognise and name that which corrupts our souls. Scarily, some of the things which promise to help us the most with our emptiness end up being the things which instead lead us into even greater slavery, promising us happiness or contentment – taking away our sense of longing that propels us forward in the urgent task of world transformation that we’re invited to be part of.
Like the prophets of old, dissatisfaction with the present and a vision for what might be is vital to seeing that change come.
Mourning that may one day be turned into dancing.
The Old Testament scholar Walter Breuggemann tells us that our ‘prophetic’ task is to name that corruption, and to lead our society in a period of mourning for those most oppressed within it. By naming this oppression and realising our part in it we can begin our (and our society’s) journey to freedom – our exodus. We proclaim that another world is possible, another way of being human that recognises that the One who is coming inaugurates a kingdom of freedom, justice and compassion.
Until then, however, our longing, our hope, our Tiqvah should be directed towards creatively and prophetically crying out against anything that enslaves and dehumanises.
We must mourn , we must wail…but we must never lose sight that the new world we are seeking lies just beyond what we see now – shimmering like a mirage at times, at others bursting forth like new life. As that other great prophet once sang, ‘there’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.’
When it happens we celebrate, we dance, and we look for and demand more.
For at this point, we realise Emmanuel is on the move.