Sunday, September 29, 2013

That Mourns in Lonely Exile: Ransom Theory in Christmas Music

O come o come emmanuel
And ransom captive israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the son of god appears


Last Saturday, Allison and I went to an American Baptist Women's conference in Pasadena. Besides hearing some marvelous women preach, I was significantly struck by the worship. A woman named Shanni Love got up and sang with minimal music, and her song was essentially a prayer set to song. I hadn't considered the nature of prayer and music together as one principle, and it was striking.

Oh 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


It was a mixture of praise and lamentation, with eyes wide shut and heart wide open. To hear such adulation and loneliness set in the form of a prayer was just perfect. With that in mind, I did wonder if Protestants (like myself) tend to miss such things.

Oh come desire of nations bind
In one the hearts of all mankind
Bid thou our sad divisions cease
And be thyself our king of peace


Worship is theology set to music, and Christmas music is the Karl Barth of systematics.

O Come O Come Emmanuel is pure Gospel theology. The future of Israel, coupled with the pessimism of the prophets and the hope of Messiah, wrapped up in rejoicing.

O come o come emmanuel
And ransom captive israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the son of god appear


Beginning with the ransom of Israel, we are already within the first century, living in continuity with a captive nation, a nation underneath the god of Rome. Oppression is currency and Israel is again bankrupt.

Oh come desire of nations bind
In one the hearts of all mankind
Bid thou our sad divisions cease
And be thyself our king of peace


Women and men were waiting for the deliverance of their nation, waiting for the installment of Psalm 110, the most frequently cited First Testament passage in the New Testament. Greg Boyd states that this text "is used to express the truth that Christ is Lord because he has defeated God's enemies" (1).

This first century world was waiting to be put beneath the feet of God. During this Second Temple time, you have the writings of Qumran, the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha. These writings are full of despair, anger, satire and vengeance.

Israel is in need to liberation, of deliverance, and this song captures this spirit perfectly. The hope of Messiah is lingering, pervasive, and pregnant with possibilities. Given that we no longer live in this world, it is often difficult to picture and sense how such things were. But, thankfully, we have songs that linger and penetrate.

He's coming towards us now
He's coming towards us now
He's coming towards us now
He always will


The coming of God was an earthy historical reality that completely rerouted everything anyone anticipated. We have already been ransomed and liberated from bondage. Rejoice, rejoice.

--Nick

Footnote:

Gregory A. Boyd, Four Views of the Atonement, 31.

No comments:

Post a Comment