“By virtue of your advanced years you can now be an official member of the Grumpy Old Men’s Club” – this is more or less the gist of what a good friend said to me this morning on learning that I had just celebrated another birthday. And this is the time of the year that I am regularly reminded that I have “enjoyed” unofficial membership of the GOMC for a long time. Christmas decorations in supermarkets and shopping malls before we get to the end of October – bah humbug!
But, at the risk of inconsistency, there are some Christmas hymns that I find deeply meaningful and useable at any time of the year. Consider one of my all-time favourites, O Come, O Come Immanuel, with the wonderfully exuberant chorus at its heart: Rejoice, rejoice! Immanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.
If you have time now I encourage you to listen to a hauntingly beautiful rendition of this song by Future of Forestry an indie rock band from San Diego (you can listen here).
The reason I love this particular Christmas song is because it so poignantly expresses two crucial dimensions of faith: the deep joy of knowing that Immanuel has indeed come, and our almost unutterable yearning for the consummation of that which began with Christ’s incarnation. Together, these two faith-realities inspire and shape the hope we have as we live, work, witness and worship in the in-between time we inhabit. This hope is earthed in the former and strengthens our resolve and resilience as we yearn for the time when all of creation will be redeemed, made new and filled with shalom (Is. 65:17-25; Rev. 21.1).
Reflecting on the Isaiah passage above Christopher Wright writes: “This inspiring vision portrays God’s new creation as a place that will be joyful, free from grief and tears, life-fulfilling, with guaranteed work satisfaction, free from the curses of frustrated labour, and environmentally safe!” (The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s grand narrative. Nottingham, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 2006, 408.)
I am mindful of the many Master of Transformational Development students and graduates who work in the light of this vision as they serve their neighbours in extremely challenging contexts: in squatter communities in Thailand, India and Kenya; among oppressed and exploited tribal people in Cambodia and Malaysia; among those who live rough on the streets of Melbourne; in extraordinarily remote communities in the mountains of Nepal; in communities ravaged by civil conflict in Cameroon and Syria; among African smallholders already confronted by the impact of climate change. I know them to be joyful demonstrators of the love of God. They serve because Immanuel has come, and they are sustained because he keeps the promise he made: “If you love me, show it by doing what I’ve told you. I will talk to the Father, and he’ll provide you with another Friend so that you will always have someone with you.” (John 14: 15-16).
So, when I sing O Come, O Come Immanuel I am mindful of my students and friends. I thank God for their witness and the inspiration I receive from him through them.
Master of Transformational Development Co-ordinator
Director of the Micah 6:8 Centre