Beloved, let this truth be our deepest desire and prayer this Christmas! “O Come, O Come, Immanuel!” Let us pray as God’s people that Jesus Christ will come and take us to be with Himself, and to “close the path to misery” here in our lonely exile in this present age.
The wonderful Christmas hymn “O Come, O Come Immanuel” captures the proper longing and desire that should be in every believer’s heart. This is expressed with a heart-felt and duplicated emphasis to stress a holy panting for God: “O Come, O Come!” When we pray or sing this from the heart, this reveals a longing for God’s shalom-peace, and a desire for precious rest that will embrace the whole world (cf. Luke 2:10-14). It is an deep expression for all things to be renewed, and for God’s people to enjoy His presence without the hindering and contaminating presence of sin, death, and the evil one. As Christians, we cry
“Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus” and “Your Kingdom Come” (Rev. 22; Matt. 6)
when we pray the Lord’s Prayer, and these are also similar heart-felt prayers for the peace that will come when God renews all things.
In the Old Covenant time, you may recall that Israel was deported to Babylon as punishment for her sins against her covenant God (cf. Matt. 1:12, 17). The exile was forever part of God’s Old Covenant story of His people. In the exile and captivity, God’s fatherly discipline would be revealed to chastise His elect, the True, believing Israel, but this would cause them to shine in the midst of darkness, and to live for God’s glory (see Jer. 29). God’s elect, True and Believing Israel were to live godly lives while in exile, in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation (Dan. 12:1-3; cf. Phil. 2:12-16). In God’s judgment in exile, there was also salvation and sanctification for True Israel, to make them a people prepared to meet the LORD. This is the wonderful salvation message of the prophets of old.
Although True Israel was God’s Beloved, they were pilgrims, exiles, aliens in a strange land, and they cried out to God (cf. 1 Pet. 2:9ff):
“Come come…and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here.”
The people of God who believed God’s promises found in His Word revealed through the mouths of the prophets, and they awaited with hope the day when God’s presence would be with them permanently, and God’s glory would cover the whole earth! (Isa. 11:9; Jer. 33:9; Hab. 2:14). This would be a Day when God’s enemies would be judged and punished, and God’s oppressed people would be free! God’s Beloved would be ransomed from their captivity! And the people waited with hope.
Although True Israel belonged to God, they lived as those who mourned. God spoke in the mouths of the prophets comfort for the people, saying essentially: “Blessed are you who mourn, you will be comforted” (cf. Matt. 5:3ff). God would reveal His comforting grace through promise in the midst of lonely Israel’s sadness (Isa. 40:1ff). They waited, and waited, and waited for the Day when the Son of God and Son of David would appear:
“…Until the Son of God appear!”
The people of God were eagerly awaiting and expectantly anticipating the Messiah, the Anointed King, who they knew would renew Israel and bring everlasting light and righteousness into a dark and evil world. The mystery that wasn’t fully understood from the Old Covenant perspective was that when Israel returned from Babylonian captivity (under Nehemiah, Ezra and a few of the Minor Prophets), when Israel returned to the land, they would still be oppressed by their enemies (for centuries!), and all their hopes went mostly unrealized. Yet they were to feed on God’s promises: “Open your mouth and I will fill you,” said the LORD (Psa. 81:10). The people were to continue trust God that He was faithful, and that He would eventually dwell as “Immanuel” with His Beloved people.
When Messiah did come in the Lord Jesus Christ, Israel was still under foreign oppression and rule. Messiah, rather than immediately destroying God’s enemies was seemingly destroyed Himself—by these same foreigners! Messiah who was to ransom them, who was to bring glorious victory for all who believed, was humbled in deep suffering and rejection, and was seemingly defeated in death—death from the foreign powers Israel had expected to be immediately conquered by Messiah, their hope! This is one of the reasons that Jesus was such an obnoxious “stumbling block” to many of the Jews (1 Cor. 1:21ff; 1 Pet. 1:8); this seemed like foolishness to them.
Yet Jesus Christ, the Messiah, as He promised, rose from the dead on the third day; death did not conquer Him. Jesus rose victoriously from the grave! In His resurrection, God, the Eternal Son, permanently united to our nature, rose to reveal that He was free from the enslaving clutches of sin, death, and the devil! Jesus the Messiah rose gloriously in power to ascend to the Eternal Throne of David. Jesus was resurrected to give victory over sin, death, hell and the devil to all those who put their faith in Him, whether Jew or Gentile!
If anyone was in Christ, “Behold, a new creation!” (2 Cor. 5:17-21).
Jesus the Messiah uniquely and powerfully overcame our worst enemies first: indwelling sin and its dominion over God’s people, the fear of death, slavery to the Prince of the Power of the Air, and the punishment of hell (Heb. 2:14-18; Eph. 2:1-4). Freedom in Jesus! Jesus told His people He came as a ransom to lay down His life to pay our debt of sin to a Holy God! (Mark 10:45).
Christ Jesus when He ascended as King on David’s Eternal Throne at God’s right hand, sent forth His Spirit to dwell within His people, and to encourage us and strengthen us to endure and complete our exile-pilgrimage here and to know His sweet, loving presence as Immanuel “with us” (Acts 2:28-33). Now on behalf of True Israel, Jesus is preparing a place for us (John 14:1ff); this is why our hearts should not be troubled!
The return from exile back to the land where God would dwell with His people in peace, giving them rest, and victory and security from all of His and our enemies, has begun with the resurrection and ascension of Christ, and the outpouring of His Spirit upon us! The return from exile has begun as He frees His people by HIs Spirit from captivity to sin and the devil, and frees us to live loving HIs truth and growing in His likeness.
This initial or inaugural beginning of the return from exile and deportation to Babylon that has begun with Jesus’ resurrection-ascension and the Spirit of Pentecost is another aspect of the mystery that was revealed, but not fully understood in the Old Covenant (Rom. 16:25-27; Eph. 3:1-10). This mystery is that the Messiah, Jesus Christ, would be resurrected and would begin the return from exile not to the Promised Land here on earth (in the Middle East in Israel), but to the Heavenly Land, or place the Promised Land in the Old Covenant had foreshadowed and pointed upward to: the “Better Country” or the “Heavenly Country” (Hebrews 11:13-16). This is the country that Abraham and all of his true, believing children longed for throughout the Old Covenant:
These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. – Hebrews 11:13-15
As God’s True Israel, united to Jesus Christ, recipients of His Holy Spirit, we can still sing “O Come, O Come, Immanuel” with all of our hearts (this is not a song for merely ethnic Israel to sing). Although the return from exile has begun for us in Jesus, and we are already seated with Christ in the Heavenly Places (Eph. 2:6; Col. 3:1-4), nevertheless, we mourn, we suffer tribulation, and persecution, yet we should be expectantly awaiting His Second Coming! (1 Pet. 4:8; Titus 2:11-14). In fact, it is through tribulation that we will actually enter the Kingdom of God (Acts 14:22; Revelation 1:9-10).
Full return from exile is for all those who truly love His appearing! (1 Tim. 4:8). Do you long for and love His appearing? The exile in the Old Covenant separated the mere ethnic, outwardly circumcised unbelieving Jews from the inwardly, believing, True Jews with circumcised hearts (cf. Rom. 2:25-28; not all of Israel is Israel, see also Rom. 9-11). The True Israel in any time, walks by faith, even when circumstances around them and in the world were at their worst! (Habakkuk 2:4; Heb. 11:1, 6; 12:1-3; 2 Cor. 5:6-10). How are you doing? Are you awaiting, anticipating, longing? Or not?! What does this teach you about yourself and your need before God? Are you a True Israelite, or merely one outwardly (see again Romans 2:25-28).
Similar to our forefathers in the faith who lived in the Old Covenant, yet with much more revealed truth where we stand on this side of the cross, we wait, too, and long for Messiah’s Second Coming and Glorious Appearing! (2 Tim. 4:1, 8). Let us then, as God’s True Israel (Gal. 6:16) live “Advent Lives” each day of the year, not just in this season when we think about Christmas and the Incarnation.
And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God. – Galatians 6:16
In our union with Christ, no matter how great the oppression, trouble, tribulation, and misery, we have Christ. Is HE enough for you? Is Christ your glorious and joyous portion? (Psa. 16:5, 11; 73:22-28). Is it good for you to be near to God? (Psa. 73:28; Heb. 4:16). In the midst of our arduous pilgrimage, we possess Christ’s powerful and Holy Spirit to give us hope, light, life, and joy in this present age, until He appears, until He comes again. Now we have Christ with discouragement, darkness, death, and devastating sadness (as Israel before the first coming!), yet we can rejoice!
“Rejoice! Rejoice! Immanuel; shall come to Thee, O Israel!”
Let us sing as we worship our glorious and beautiful King on David’s Throne, and as we await our Homecoming to the Heavenly New Creation and New Jerusalem, where we shall behold Immanuel face to face (1 John 3:1-3; Rev. 21:1-7)! Let us sing:
“…Open wide our heavenly home; make safe the way that leads on high, and close the past to misery!”
Beloved of Immanuel, Let this be our song and prayer this Christmas. And let us visualize with holy, captured imaginations this scene that is about to take place in our lives:
“Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” – Revelation 21:3-4
IN Christ’s love,