December 06, 2012

Joy birthed of Pain

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.

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death's dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

These are two of the verses to the familiar Christmas Hymn "O come, O come, Emmanuel." It is my favorite Christmas song, for a rather simple reason. In this song there is an incredible tension between an anxious, almost dejected, sense of waiting on the one hand; and a confident hope on the other.   On Sunday Andie and I started working through Desiring God's advent devotional, "Good News of Great Joy" (available free to download at And I have been struck by how little joy there is surrounding Christmas in general, and for Christians especially. Hype, yes. Anticipation of gifts to be given and recieved, perhaps. Dread of long shopping lines, probably. Stress over a million things that seem neccesary to "pull-off" the holiday, to be sure. But joy? I don't see much of it. And in the first few days going through this book, examining Scriptures related to the event we celebrate on December 25th-God becoming a man, in the form of an infant-I have noticed that I lack excitement. Think about it. Jesus, the One who created heaven and earth, who moulded the sun, set the stars, commands the tides, controls hurricanes and meteor showers-enters human history. Sets aside the rights of Divinity to becomes a child born to an unwed mother in a barn. Why? In order to live a life of perfection that would make Him a fit sacrifice. And in sacrificing Himself, He takes on my sin. The wrath of God is poured out on Him, and is satisfied by Him. He absorbs the wrath of God due to me. Jesus came and was born into a feed trough so that He could ultimately be killed in my place! That is mind blowing. Why am I not amazed? Why do I not leap with joy any time I think of a baby crying in a manger 2000 years ago? Why do I not sing along with His mother of His great mercy in esteeming my lowly estate?   I think part of it is the fact that it seems so distant. I mean, come on Will. We live in world of war, turmoil, where tornadoes rip up homes, and divorce rips up families. One where loved ones die and we get cancer. How can we be filled with joy? It's a completely legitimate question.

Yet I think this tension is what answers that question. Because all that pain which we refer to as life is what makes us capable of the longing for God we need. When everything is coasting, I don't feel a need for God. When the money is in the bank, and the kids are healthy, and everyone likes me, I sure don't think I need anyones help. But when the feces hit the fan, I know how weak I am. I realize that none of this is in my control. And all of a sudden I am feeling the reality of that "God shaped hole." I can feel the something of the ansxt with which Simeon must have waited for the consolation of Israel. Until there is pain and helplessness, I am too proud for my heart to cry "O come, O come, Emmanuel!" Joy can enter when my need is apparent, and with confidence I know that He will come. That he has come. That He cares. That he cares enough to come not only in a spiritual sense, but He cared enough to come down and get dirty. We have a High Priest who can sympathize with our weakness, the author of Hebrews tells us. Rejoice. Rejoice! Emmanuel has come to thee, O Israel. He has come. He is our joy.

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I love Jesus, my wife, and my kids. Writing and teaching are two things I have a passion for. Gardening and fishing are cool, too. I blog @, you can reach me @