Editor’s note: DCSC volunteer Matthew Fichter concludes our Advent blog series with a reflection on the word “rejoice”. Merry Christmas!
At the mention of the word “rejoice” during this Advent season, the commonly played Christmas hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” comes most readily to mind. The lyrics “Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel,” ring in my head. The tune and melody of the hymn play out and promote peaceful and tranquil thoughts.
Thoughts of sitting by a crackling fire with family on a dark and bitter cold Christmas Eve night. Excitement intensifying in our souls, as our bodies lie motionless under thick blankets on the living room couches. The room lit only by the raging fire and Christmas lights strung around the windows and woven into the ornamented tree adorned by a bright angel. Chocolate drop cookies, baked using Grandma Ebbs’ famous recipe, rest on a tray within arms reach, and a mug of hot chocolate with marshmallows is held delicately between both palms. Christmas Eve has finally come. All work emails, work assignments, and phone calls have been put on hold. There are no meetings to attend in the morning and certainly no city traffic to get trapped in. Family who has traveled far and near at last sits together under one roof. Decorations have been put up, cards have been mailed out, and gifts are wrapped and resting under the tree waiting patiently to be opened by my desperate five-year-old niece and almost three-year-old nephew. Next year Emmy will be two-years-old and racing right behind them.
All the aches and pains endured throughout the Advent season and year of 2019 have brought us to this moment. It is a moment of merriment and cheer and a moment to be truly grateful for. Grateful for the immeasurable graces gifted by God to make this moment of cheer possible, even if it lasts for only but a moment. Surely this personal experience is drastically different from the same moment in time experienced by all other 8 billion or so inhabitants of this earth and all creation. Some of who are in a constant state of agonizing suffering. Some who are without food, shelter, or the comfort of loved ones. Some who might not know what Christmas is or what it is really about. Surely, they too have reason to rejoice despite these difficult times.
Then, I gaze above the flames of the fire to the manger scene fixed on the fireplace mantel. As I do so, my thoughts begin to shift gears. Why is Israel told to rejoice in the old Christmas hymn? What did the suffering Israelites envision when the birth of a savior, Emmanuel, was prophesied? The Old Testament prophet Zephaniah provides a clue:
“Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall never again fear evil. On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: “Fear not, O Zion; let not your hands grow weak. The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. I will gather those of you who mourn for the festival, so that you will no longer suffer reproach.” (English Standard Version, Zeph. 3.14-18).
Depicted in the manger in front of me is the fulfillment of that prophecy. The birth of Jesus Christ, whose life and death gifted the greatest gift Israel and all of humanity could ever imagine. It was the gift of eternal salvation and defeat of all evil. Unlike the gift of lying on a cozy couch surrounded by family on Christmas Eve, this is a gift available to all 8 billion inhabitants of this earth. A gift so great that, if willfully accepted, will blossom into an endless sensation of merriment and cheer as opposed to only a fleeting moment of it. Maybe the Israelites did have a good reason to rejoice at the alleged coming of an Emmanuel. Perhaps in recognizing the fulfillment of this prophecy and accepting the gift it offers, we too can find reason to rejoice amidst all our sufferings and trials. Not just a reason to rejoice on Christmas day or during Advent, but also a reason to rejoice every waking day and moment of our lives. Victory over death has been won. It has been defeated by God’s overpowering love. Therefore we can rejoice today and be glad for God’s kingdom is at hand.