A world in turmoil. A tyrant in a position of power yet beholden to a foreign power in love with conquest. The question was when would enough be enough to challenge the system to change the system of dominance and fear. Enough was enough the people cried O come, O come, Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel.
They believed it was not a question of if but when. They had been taught to believe it was not a question of if but when. They wanted to believe it was not a question of if but when … when would God deliver. Will it be today? this year? in my lifetime? Is this the child who will grow to be… Is this the son who was given to us for… Is this the time, the place, and if not, why not? O come, O come, Emmanuel.
They believed or wanted to. Some of us know the feeling of wanting to believe in God, in the story, in the miracle, in the baby. But it’s too hard. It’s hard to set aside our insistence on the scientific method, hard to get past the logic and reason to believe our Santa God will deliver what we long for. Yet deep inside what we long for is to believe in miracles and God-with-us. We mistakenly think faith is an all-or-nothing kind of thing, but any faith is close enough.
Some of us know the feeling of wanting to believe in hope and change and justice and mercy. But it’s hard. It’s hard to set aside the news, hard to get past the pain, hard to let ourselves hope and be disappointed again. Yet deep inside what we long for is to believe that hope and justice and mercy can change the world. We mistakenly think changing the world is an all-or-nothing kind of thing, but sometimes not giving up is close enough.
We sing: Isaiah the prophet has written of old how God’s new creation shall come. Instead of the thorn tree, the fir tree shall grow, and the wolf shall lie down with the lamb, the lamb, the wolf shall lie down with the lamb. We hear these words of hope and yet we see reality, and we fear that we live in a world of wolves where no lamb will ever be safe.
For some of us, it’s hard to believe it will change. And that is exactly why we sing. We choose to sing. We sing O come, O come, Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel because we know the chorus. We know what is to come: Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!
It’s not a matter of if but when life will get better, not if but when all people will be welcome, not if but when God’s kingdom of peace will come. Not if but when.
We come to believe it when we sing it— when we sing the words, when we let them fill us and move us. We choose to sing our way to hope. We sing for what we long for. That’s when O come, O come Emmanuel gives way to O come, all ye faithful! Joyful and triumphant!
I believe it and still sometimes I want to change the words. O come, all ye faithless! Cautiously optimistic! And sometimes that’s close enough.
This week our Youth Minister led a Longest Night Service, a time of contemplation and prayer for those having a difficult season. At each of the Advent candles she had placed slips of paper with those words, and we were invited to take what we needed. We started at Peace, and I thought, “Oh, yes, I need some peace!” And I took one of the slips. We got to Hope and I thought, “I have hope, but I look at the world around us and know we need more.” So I took a slip of hope. We got to Joy and I thought, “I have moments of great joy, but sadness and worry sometimes threaten to dim it. I need more joy.” We got to Love and my first thought was, “That’s one thing I have in abundance. I have so much love in my life.” I took a slip anyway because I wanted the whole set … and because it occurred to me that there are people I don’t yet love, and maybe if we all have enough Love, maybe we can fill in the gaps for the others, for love is what gets us there. Love is the message of Christmas—yes, the love of family and friends, but even more the love of God in human form, a God who said heaven wasn’t close enough.
Tonight we celebrate the birth of a child, a child whose mother was like most mothers, I suspect. If she could carry a tune, she undoubtedly sang to the baby in her arms. I wonder what she sang. I wonder what words and melodies were part of his earliest awareness. “Like mothers in every time and place, she sang for comfort, for hope and for survival. Her song became his song. And his song became the world’s.”
This Christmas and in the days to come, let us sing our way to peace. Let us sing our way to hope. Let us sing our way to joy and to love.
If you are not yet convinced that your personal Silent Night is a Holy Night, sing it anyway. If you are not yet sure about peace on earth, and mercy mild, sing it anyway. And if you are already convinced, if you are full of peace and joy and faith, then Go tell it on the mountain because others need to hear it.
Joy to the World, the Lord is come. And that’s close enough. Amen.
 Jennifer Brownell in the UCC daily devotional 12/22/16.