Let God make us one with each other
It’s been said that only Francis Scott Key knows all the verses to the National Anthem. Most of us are lucky to know only the first verse, sung mostly at sporting events.
The same might be said of the hymn, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” Most of us know the first verse “O come, O come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appear.” As “good Catholics,” we rarely sing more than one or two verses of any hymn.
(The departed Father Lou Pabst always argued for singing all the verses of all the hymns. He would say “We don’t just say, “Our Father, who are in heaven, hallowed by thy name.” We say the whole prayer!) The verses we don’t sing in “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” are among the most powerful.
The next to last verse reads “O come, thou Dayspring from on high, and cheer us by thy drawing nigh. Disperse the gloomy clouds of night and death’s dark shadow put to flight.”
We live in a world of gloom. The news is always the bad news. It’s easy to get caught up in all the stories of darkness, and forget that God has entered our history. That there are heartbreaking stories in all of our lives is true. Yet, Emmanuel – which literally means, “God is with us” – really is with us! This God won’t abandon us in our sorrow, forget us in our distress, leave us in our addictions. This cheer is not smiling over our depression. This cheer is the confidence that we will rise above our depression.
And, yes, as St. Paul says: “the last enemy to be defeated is death. “Death seems to mock all of our dreams and hopes in this world. Yet, we believe in a God who has put death’s “dark shadow” to flight. When we die, we don’t go into the darkness. We go into the light. Death has been put to flight.
And the last verse of the hymn: “O come Desire of nations bind in one the hearts of all mankind. Bid every strife and quarrel cease and fill the world with heaven’s peace.”
Every war is followed by another war. Every terrorist killed breeds more terrorists. As long as we see each other as separate from each other, we will continue to make enemies of each other. We need a force that can “bind in one the hearts of all mankind.”
St. Paul uses the analogy that we are all part of the body of Christ. That’s an important image for us. Perhaps we need to expand that image to see that we are all part of the body of God. When Jesus told us to love our neighbor as ourself, he wasn’t just speaking of loving myself as I love various other individual selves. He was inviting us to see that we all belong to the same self, the body of humanity, and that to injure any part of the body is to injure the whole body. The reason we are told to love ourselves is precisely so we can love all others as belonging to the same self. I am you. You are me. How the world would be different if we did see each of us belonging to all of us!
That’s the longing of Advent. If we could “get it,” really believe it, then we would indeed, “Rejoice, rejoice O Israel. To thee shall come Emmanuel.” God is with us all. The longing of Advent is to allow God to make us one with each other.