O Come, O Come Emmanuel

I sat down to write about yesterday's report released by the Senate Intelligence Committee. The report revealed the horrible tactics of torture employed by the CIA in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. I was going to write about the dangerous game we play when ends justify atrocious means. I wrote about a paragraph or so and then I couldn't go any farther. I was stopped cold in my tracks. I didn't want to do it.

I am sick of writing about the crap that we do. Like I've said previously, I think that it's important to look into the shadows of our world and ask ourselves the difficult questions. I just couldn't do it today.

Our church, like many during this time, sings the hymn "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" during Advent services. It's an aching, minor key song. It comes from a place of brokenness. That aching has seemed more real this year as I have looked around the world. People are always hurting, but my eyes have been opened to it more this season.

There are women, children, and men dying from disease, poverty, and war. There are communities that strongly feel like various systems treat them as second-class citizens at best and less than human at worst. All the while, I will catch a glimpse on the news and some talking head will glibly turn these people into issues. The suffering are used as chips in a pointless game of political poker.

And it makes me feel helpless. It makes me feel like...well, there's this other Advent song. It's actually a U2 song called "Wake Up Dead Man" and it is one of the few that drops the f-bomb. But it is definitely an Advent song and its opening line captures how I imagine many are feeling right now.

Jesus, Jesus help me
I'm alone in this world
And a f----- -up world it is too

I don't really use that kind of language, but, yeah, that's how it feels sometimes. This is a season in which we look to, we hope for, we beg Jesus to come and rescue us because we need it. What's difficult is how he has come and will come and we are stuck somewhere in-between. We wait and it is all minor key renditions of "O Come, O Come Emmanuel."

I'm struck by that word emmanuel. God with us. Even as we wait, we have the promise that God is with us. Matthew's gospel closes with the promise that Jesus will be with his followers always. So there is a disconnect between what we sing at Advent and what Jesus says, but that disconnect feels real.

We are left with this almost frustrating tension that Jesus is with us and helping and yet will come in a more radically transforming way later. Why then is there this chasm in time in which there is so much suffering? The only thing that I come up with is that God wants us to join in doing the life-giving work that humanity was intended to do in the first place. God is with us, but God is not magically making the problems disappear. To do it magically would not allow us to grow. It would not help us be like our creator. God wants us to love, to wage peace, to level inequality.

Which makes me wonder if Jesus is singing to us. I wonder if he is singing about how this is a messed up world. He feels lonely because we often sit on our hands while people are suffering. And he wants us to come help him; not because God could not do it on God's own, but because that is what we were created to do. God is out there in the world. So as we wait this Advent for God to come and help, perhaps we should realize that maybe God is waiting for us to come and help as well.

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