O Come, Thou Branch of Jesse’s tree,
Free them from Satan’s tyranny,
That trust Thy mighty pow’r to save,
and give them vict’ry o’er the grave.
So sings the fourth verse of O Come, O Come, Emmanuel in the Lutheran Service Book. Originally written in the 12th century, this song has struck a nerve in generation after generation of those seeking hope through Jesus Christ. It is a call and a cry to be released and delivered from the bonds of the evil one that seeks to steal, kill, and destroy. This song catches the prayers of peoples through the ages as we await, with hope, the salvation of our God.
The great prophecy called the Valley of the Dry Bones found in Ezekiel 37 contains these words, “Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’” These are words of despair, a constant tempter to all, even to those who have the hope found in Jesus. For it doesn’t take long in perusing the News to find evidence of dry bones, of broken lives, of shattered dreams, or of hopes dashed upon the rocks of the abyss.
Whether it is terrorism or addiction or abuse or violence or homelessness or (insert your common worry here) it is easy to feel dried up. The great evil foe, Satan, is a master at lighting and/or fanning into flame these seeds of doubt to the point many fall into despair, apathy, or fear; each of which locks the power of God in our lives.
So we sing the victory o’er the grave. We ask God to pour out the pow’r to save from Satan’s tyranny. We implore God to give us eyes that see clearly, not dimly as through a fogged up mirror.
Consider the great stumbling block that is illustrated in the image from the seventh New Testament lesson of the Bethel Bible Series. To a world shrouded in darkness a baby came. A carpenter worked. An itinerant rabbi gathered disciples and walked and talked with them. A “rebel” betrayed by a friend died a slave’s death, a shamed death, on a cross of wood with a crown of thorns added for good mocking measure. I’m not sure how much worse things could have looked and felt on that Friday afternoon on Golgotha so long ago.
And yet, that was the victory over the grave. Not in spite of it. Because of it. Through it. It was in those ridiculously humble and shameful circumstances that God defeated sin, death and hell. It was there that the steadfast love of God won the victory of victories. This is why today, 2,000 years later, we celebrate the advent of our king, our God, born in a manger, died on a cross, resurrected to new life, and sing of the faith that saves lives, the hope that transforms the world, and the love that conquers the power of sin, death, and hell. It is why we look forward to the next Advent of the King of kings and Lord of lords, when all will at last be well and we can sing the final verse not in expectation, but in fruition:
O Come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Bid Thou our sad divisions cease,
Ad be Thyself our King of Peace.
In this Advent season may our Lord and Savior fill you with faith, hope, and love despite, or maybe because of, the struggles you see around you. The apostle Paul tells us the greatest of those three is love. And God is love. May His steadfast love for you, and yours for Him, pour out through you throughout the holidays and new year as you celebrate his first advent, and look forward to His final advent.
With faith, hope, and love,