December 23: O Emmanuel! O God With Us!
- O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver,
- the hope of the nations and their Saviour:
- Come and save us, O Lord our God.
10Hear the word of the LORD, O nations,
and declare it in the coastlands far away;
say, "He who scattered Israel will gather him,
and will keep him as a shepherd a flock."
11For the LORD has ransomed Jacob,
and has redeemed him from hands too strong for him.
12They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion,
and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the LORD,
over the grain, the wine, and the oil,
and over the young of the flock and the herd;
their life shall become like a watered garden,
and they shall never languish again.
13Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance,
and the young men and the old shall be merry.
I will turn their mourning into joy,
I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.
14I will give the priests their fill of fatness,
and my people shall be satisfied with my bounty, says the LORD.
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This day before Christmas Eve-- as a friend called it today, Christmas Adam (think about it...) we are offered a passage from Jeremiah that speaks to the rescue of the people from exile. It is a song about joyful homecoming.
The people are promised that God will be their shepherd, which must have been welcome after a long time without one. What follows is a party: The people are radiant, they experience God's goodness in the promise of grain and oil and wine, in their own flocks.
"Their life will be like a watered garden."
They. Will. Make. Merry.
I have always been captivated by the old illustrations of Fezziwig's Ball from "A Christmas Carol." The spirit of Christmas Past shows Scrooge this scene from his youth, old Fezziwig throwing a party for his clerks. Scrooge was young, and he was poor, and the old man knew his young workers needed an outlet for their pent-up energy as well as to express their Christmas cheer. Scrooge remembers the merrymaking with gratitude and poignancy. It doesn't need to be spelled out for him, what a different boss he is from Fezziwig.
Faith lives at the intersection of what is and what is hoped (or perhaps what is dreaded). The return of God for the exiles is not a theoretical thing: Jeremiah promises, it will make a difference in terms of their everyday lives. They are poor, and they have long been grieving, and they have almost given up on these simple pleasures that signify "the good life." Grain. Oil. Wine. A garden. A flock. Not riches. Not jewels or doodads or luxurious clothing or the best of anything. But enough.
"My people will be satisfied with my bounty," says the Lord.
The bounty of God is enough.
"Riu, Riu, Chiu", 16th c. Spanish, Anonymous, sung by The King's Singers
Make haste, Lord, make haste! Come, without delay! Bring your people your delights, for our exile has been long. We pray in your Holy Name. Amen.