Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4.4-7)
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…
Latin, traditional (tr. John Mason Neale)
What is this that comes at this time of year? Whose coming, and to whom?
Nothing is the same any longer; and yet each Christmas we pray the same prayers, celebrate the same rites, religious and secular, and the world goes on as before, corrupt, cruel and broken. The weak grow weaker; the masters thrive as they have always done.
And yet, for all we “mourn in lonely exile here”, the call is to “rejoice… [and] do not worry about anything, but [live] by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving…”
Somehow we know this. Even those most caught up in the commercial side of Christmas know, somewhere in their hearts, that there really is something going on. There is a gladness that rises even in the two sizes too small heart of the grinchiest among us…
As Mary prophesied herself (Luke 1 46-55),
[God’s] mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty…
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1.5). Steadily the light shines: love constant in pain, mercy relentless before cruelty. A tiny child brought it with him, long long ago. Defenceless, in occupied territory, the light shines still, and always will.
“Rejoice, rejoice, again, I say, rejoice!”