“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.”
These are the opening lines of my favorite Christmas carol. Now, I am pretty strict with myself in the fact that I will only listen to Christmas music starting the day after Thanksgiving until New Year’s day at the latest (although that week between Christmas and New Year’s it feels weird to be listening to Christmas music, I always want to hold onto that spirit for a little bit longer). This song, however, is the one exception. I will listen to this song in the dead heat of summer and not have any weird feelings whatsoever. At the root, this song is about the Christmas story, however it’s basically a hymn and we can sing hymns all year round! I think that the reason I have such a great love for this song is in part because of the immense hope that is carried in it’s message, but also because it helped me truly come to accept Christ.
When I moved out of state to go to grad school I found myself in a new state and new city with the nearest family living about 9 hours drive away through the barren desert. I couldn’t exactly pop over to my parent’s house whenever I wanted to see them or if I really needed a hug (come on, I can’t be the only one who has those moments). Because I’m naturally very much an introvert and it takes me time to really trust new people and become actual friends, I decided to live by myself in my own apartment (aside from my dog, who- for the first quarter of school- was pretty much my only friend).
So there I was about 3 or 4 months into my new life as a grad student and it was Christmas time. I had begun to form some friendships, but the other girls (and one guy) in my class and I were not super close at that time. Luckily as the year progressed most of us became super close and several of us are still very good friends. Anyway, around Christmas time I found myself studying all alone in my apartment with only my dog for company. I had never in my life felt so utterly alone and cut off from people. I had a relationship with God in a sense, but I hadn’t fully grasped the idea about why Jesus needed to be part of the picture. I was alone in my apartment one night trying to muster up as much Christmas spirit as possible to make myself feel better by listening to Christmas music and sitting near my little fake Christmas tree. Unfortunately I was not drinking hot cocoa because I went to grad school in Arizona and it just doesn’t get cold enough for cocoa. I had never been so far away from my family around my favorite time of year without friends to fill that interpersonal need that, yes, even we introverts feel from time to time.
In my lonely apartment around Christmas time, I was watching Christmas music videos on YouTube. One night I found a video that someone had made with the song O Come Emmanuel by Aaron Shust playing in the background as the video displayed bible verses and showed a re-enactment of the life of Jesus from birth to beyond the grave.
I don’t know how many times I replayed that video, but as I started really paying attention to the details that were flashing before my eyes and truly listening to the lyrics of the song floating into my ears, I had this rush of warmth (almost like a hug) come over me. I replayed the video over and over again because I just couldn’t get enough of it! At one point I began to cry because even though I was completely, physically alone, I felt a warm and welcoming presence envelope me. I don’t know how to fully explain it and you may think that I’m crazy, but that was the moment when I truly knew in my heart that God is ALWAYS with me! He is with each of us, even when we don’t think He is. Even when we’re alone watching Christmas themed music videos on YouTube, His presence can be felt if we allow ourselves to be vulnerable enough to notice it. I mean, He’s there anyways, even when you aren’t open to it, which is why it’s always good to keep yourself in check about what you’re watching on the internet.
This is also a great reminder for the times that you may be feeling lonely, especially as single people around the holidays. When couples are prominent in Christmas movies, on street corners, at Christmas gatherings and when you get together with your family and they ask you for the millionth time about getting married and making babies it can be hard to not feel insanely alone in everything you do. I mean, come on, who else hates going to their company Christmas party and facing your happily married co-workers all alone? Even though we feel alone through all of these situations and they tend to be more prominent around this time of year, God is right there with us. He supports us through the lonely nights that may be full of tears, wondering when you will finally “be happy.” He’s there when the groans of frustration finally come out during a heated family argument when you just can’t stand your grandparents (or whoever that trying person may be in your family) making you feel like you are less of an adult or less of a person in some way because you are not in a relationship.
Let me just say, that I’m in no way less of a person because I don’t have a man in my life and neither are you. In fact, it’s very much the opposite, but only because I have one thing in my life that helps to support me through those tough times: Jesus. Before I truly came to know the Lord I threw myself a pity party at least 3 times a week, which is honestly quite a conservative estimate. I’d wallow in my own self pity and convince myself that I’d never be loved. I’d torture myself by speaking lies into my own heart. “I’m too ugly, tall, annoying, whatever for a guy to really like me that way.” I’ve cried myself to sleep perseverating on my aloneness and “unlovability” more often than I’d care to admit. Sure, I’d go through short phases where I’d find something else to distract me from those negative thoughts (such as a new hobby, food, or hanging out with friends), but for the most part I was miserable and lonely and I loved when I found others who were equally miserable and lonely.
The thing is though, while misery loves company, that type of company doesn’t make you less unhappy. It tends to send you into a spiral of negative self loathing, people mistrusting, universe hating misery, which is super hard to recover from if you aren’t careful.
This Christmas song is important for it’s message which reminds us that we should REJOICE because God is with us (Emmanuel) through Christ! The melody can often sound sad and the beginning parts of the verses seem like desperate cries for help, but we are on the other side of the song because Christ has already come! We don’t have to pray for Emmanuel to come and ransom us, because he already has! We get to celebrate the Rejoice part of the chorus! Isaiah 53:5 says “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” By Christ’s wounds we are healed and we can enjoy peace! We no longer need to dwell in the dark place of loneliness that permeates so deeply into our lives as single people. We may not always be able to get around times when we will be alone, but like Kelly Clarkson says “it doesn’t mean I’m lonely when I’m alone.” We don’t need to feel lonely because we are never truly alone. God is with us, just like the song promises and just like the bible promises. Even when you’re at your next holiday gathering and you don’t have a plus one, God is with you, feeding His strength and His love into your life. However, like all gifts we need to be ready and willing to receive it. So this holiday season be filled with God’s presence and His confidence in the grace and love that He has bestowed upon you. Then sit down and pull up a chair to rejoice at His table.
**Because I believe in spreading the word of God and Christmas cheer here are some links to my favorite modern versions of this classic carol: here’s the original Aaron Shust version that I referenced; here’s another version; and another one, here’s one more of my favorites!