O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Who is Jesus? Simple: Jesus Christ is Emmanuel, God with us. If Jesus Christ is Emmanuel, God with us, then where are we?

According to the portion of lyrics I just read to the Christmas Hymn “O come, O come Emmanuel” we are in captivity, in lonely exile, in mourning. And it’s true. Apart form what Christ has done for us we are held captive and in exile. We are in chains, imprisoned; we are in a state of separation, alienated. We are left to our own devices, to deal with our dirt, our guilt, our shame on our own. We are burdened by our failures and our sorrows. We are groping about in the dark, desperately trying to keep it and get it together.

Each and everyone of us has been touched by something that reveals what’s really going on in our lives: we’re not in control, we aren’t free. Some of us have felt the deep sorrow of loss, some of us bear the burden of failure and the fact that we’re hiding that failure from others; some of us know intimately the deadly cold fingers of fear; some of us know—very well—where the bottom is and how exhausting it is to keep yourself from falling toward it; some of us know the heart palpitations induced from shame and regret, to look in the mirror and despise the very person looking back at you. I know these things very well; very, very well. For a long time I lived under the unbearable weight of my failures, in a horrible darkness, plagued with fear and guilt and shame (I’ve shared my testimony elsewhere here on Mockingbird).

After my conversion in December of 2000, I was asked to be a co-leader for the youth group. I remember the first retreat I went on with the youth. It was on this retreat where I first heard the story of the woman at the well (John 4:7-26). Up to that point, I assumed the bible to be an archaic thing, something removed from me that only recounted what had happened in history. But at that moment, when I heard those verses read out loud, I felt pulled into the story. I was the woman at the well. I could relate to her. “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” The woman asks Jesus. Jesus, do you know to whom you speak? Don’t you know that I am dirty, that I am a failure, that I am guilty? Surely, if you knew you wouldn’t speak to me…


But Jesus did know, He knew everything about her even though she tried to hide it; and he knew everything about me and he knows everything about you, even those things you keep super close to your chest, the things you think would drive him away, He knows. He knows and yet He doesn’t leave. He doesn’t flee. Instead, He descends low, He sits and reclines against the well, speaking to her, to me, and to you.

And this is one of the remarkable things about Christianity: our God comes to us, our God lives with us, our God allows himself to be touched. The word made flesh is, according to the Gospel of John, a dynamic word that knows no boundaries of darkness that it can’t illuminate.

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

This is what happens in the story about the woman at the well (John 4). Jesus dwells low, taking a seat at the Samaritan well, talking to a Samaritan woman who has been ostracized by her community—she is unclean, she has shame, she is a failure. When no one else would dare talk with her—and even didn’t want to talk with her—Jesus does. He sits with her, he dwells with her. No one is too far gone or too sinful for him. The word goes into the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it.

It is His dwelling with us that sets us free–the chains have been removed. It is His dwelling with us that brings us close; we are close to Him because He has come close–and this dwelling ends our exile, turns our mourning into cheer and joy even now. And, that is what we remember during this season of Advent: we recall where we were and celebrate that He has come.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel has come to us, O Israel.

*The above was adapted from this sermon, which you can listen to below: