Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Sing the Name of Jesus

Why do we sing?  James says we sing for joy (James 5:13).  We sing to keep our minds focused on what's true, noble, and just. (Philippians 4:8).  The Psalms teach us to sing for the praise of God.  But in a recent post, Dene Ward  pointed out that we also sing to teach ourselves.  

As moms and Sunday School teachers we know that.  We sing the books of the New Testament under our breath to find Philemon. I'd never remember the sons of Jacob, all the names of the judges or the apostles without those little ditties.  Passages like Philippians 2 record what were most likely the earliest Christian teaching hymns - a gospel retelling predating the Gospels themselves.  In a more modern expression "The Wise Man Built his House upon a Rock" and "Jesus Loves Me" teach some of the deepest Biblical truths in the simplest child-friendly language.  

We may be less familiar though with teaching hymns for adults.  One of our Christmas carols falls in that category.  "O Come O Come Emmanuel" is a translated 8th century Latin teaching hymn.  It dates from a time when art and music were two primary ways that Christian education was done in an illiterate society.  

The Carol lists 5 different prophetic names of Christ and then explains one of the amazing things that the advent of Jesus into the world means.  For example the first verse

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.

Emmanuel is the name identified by Isaiah that the virgin will give to her child (Isaiah 7:10-16).  It means "God with us."  In an amazing turn of events this prophetic name did not indicate that God would once again dwell in his tabernacle or his tent (after he left so spectacularly in Ezekiel 10) but rather that the Son of God himself would come to live in Israel.  For the first time since the garden of Eden men would walk with God not metaphorically but side by side and hand in hand.  

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.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

The day-spring means the place from which the day springs in other words from the East or as it is sometimes translated, "The Sunrise." Both Malachi and John also use the imagery of Jesus as the "sun."  Malachi calls him the "Sun of righteousness" (Malachi 4:2) and John identifies the New Jerusalem as not needing a sun in the sky because the Lord is the light (Revelation 21:23, 22:5). Yet it was Zacharias who originated this name at the end of his prophetic song. 

Because of the tender mercy of our God, With which the Sunrise from on high will visit us, TO SHINE UPON THOSE WHO SIT IN DARKNESS AND THE SHADOW OF DEATH, To guide our feet into the way of peace. (Luke 1:78-79 quoting Isaiah 9:2)

The lyrics to the song are a paraphrase of Zacharias' prophecy. The rising light of the Son/Sun will send the shadows fleeing.  It's an image designed to bring hope.  It brought me back to Lamentations 3:21-23 

This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have hope.  The LORD'S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail.   They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. 

Which each new sunrise God's compassion floods the world.  With one amazing Sunrise, the mercies of God defeated darkness and death forever.  That's a reason for rejoicing if I've ever heard one.

I've enjoyed this Christmas carol for a long time but I didn't really pay much attention to the words.  The soaring music on the other hand kept my attention. I have heard a sermon or two (you probably have as well) on how important it is to understand and pay attention as we sing.  In Colossians Paul indicates that the singing is a kind of teaching, a kind of admonishing, and a matter of the heart (Colossians 3:16).  "O Come O Come Emmanuel" manages all these things.  We can learn about the names of Christ; we admonish one another to rejoice, and we should feel the joy that the coming of Jesus brought and his coming again will bring into our world!

Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(R), Copyright(c) 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

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