Recommended version: Lauren Daigle, Sleeping At Last, JJ Heller
This is my favorite carol!! It captures the mystery, awe, and wonder of Christ's birth. It communicates the desperation of God's people, and emphasizes the miracle that is God with us. It has an interesting history as well: This hymn was originally written in Latin. "It is a metrical paraphrase of the O Antiphons, a series of plainchant antiphons attached to the Magnificat at Vespers over the final days before Christmas. The hymn has its origins over 1,200 years ago in monastic life in the 8th or 9th century. Seven days before Christmas Eve monasteries would sing the “O antiphons” in anticipation of Christmas Eve when the eighth antiphon, “O Virgo virginum” (“O Virgin of virgins”) would be sung before and after Mary’s canticle, the Magnificat (Luke 1:46b–55). The Latin metrical form of the hymn was composed as early as the 12th century." - Wikipedia
While several versions of this song have been adapted throughout history, we're most familiar with the 1861 version adapted by John Mason Neale.
"This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. Joseph, her fiance, was a good man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly.
As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. 'Joseph, son of David,' the angel said, 'do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name Him Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.'
All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord's message through His prophet:
'Look! The virgin will conceive a child!
She will give birth to a son,
and they will call Him Immanuel,
which means "God is with us."'" - Matthew 1:18-23 NLT
"I will tell of the Lord's unfailing love.
I will praise the Lord for all He has done.
I will rejoice in His great goodness to Israel,
which He has granted according to His mercy and love.
He said, 'They are my very own people.
Surely they will not betray me again.'
And He became their Savior.
In all their suffering He also suffered,
and He personally rescued them.
In His love and mercy He redeemed them.
He lifted them up and carried them through all the years." - Isaiah 63:7-9 NLT
"So the Word became human and made His home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen His glory, the glory of the Father's one and only Son." - John 1:14 NLT
Emmanuel means "God is with us." Through Jesus' life, death, and resurrection, God now dwells among us. When baby Jesus was born, even while in the womb, God Himself lived in the flesh with His people. Even more than that, Jesus wasn't born into a palace among royalty. God chose to be born into and raised by a poor family in a no-name town. There's a town like this near you, or maybe you live in one yourself. "Can anything good come from Nazareth?" (John 1:46) On top of that, Jesus and his family were exiled to Egypt where He grew up, learning the language and living as a foreigner.
"In all their suffering He also suffered."
God with us means that He knows and has experienced the things we go through. Jesus didn't live a pampered life, looking down at people toiling below Him. He lived and moved among the people. He went deeper than anyone in His time dared to, reaching out to lepers, conversing with Samaritan women, and sharing meals with even more disreputable people.
Often, I long to have been around in that time. To meet Jesus, experience His kindness and grace. I imagine He exuded joy and peace and love. His gaze would make you feel seen, understood, and loved in an instant, no matter what you had done or who you were. But Jesus said it would be best for Him to go so that His followers could receive the Holy Spirit!
"'But now I am going away to the one who sent me, and not one of you is asking where I am going. Instead, you grieve because of what I've told you. But in fact, it is best for you that I go away, because if I don't, the Advocate won't come. If I do go away, then I will send Him to you.'" - John 16:5-7 NLT
We're living between the Advents. Jesus came to bring salvation. His death and sacrifice tore the veil between God and humanity (literally. Luke 23:45) Because of this, we have received the Holy Spirit to live within us! God is now not only with us, but within us. And that is better than Jesus being here in the flesh! This is how we get to experience and extend the love, power, and mercy of God. WE are the vessels of Immanuel.
But we still wait with eager anticipation for the day when Christ returns to make all things new for all time.
"I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, 'Look, God's home is now among His people! He will live with them, and they will be His people. God Himself will be with them.'" - Revelation 21:3 NLT
At the second Advent, we will live with God once again, in the wholeness and harmony of Eden. May He hasten that day!
Between the Advents, we must keep our eyes on Christ, through the presence of the Holy Spirit, and work to bring as much of that Kingdom to earth as we can now.
God is with us. We are His vessels to carry God's presence throughout the world.
How do you experience God's actual presence in your life?
Think of someone who you consider to bring God's presence to those around them. What is it about that person that helps you experience God?
How can you more fully take advantage of the fact that God's Spirit is in you?