Advent 2021: Joy

“Emmanuel Shall Come to Thee”

“O come, O Come, Emmanuel / and ransom captive Israel / that mourns in lonely exile here / until the Son of God appear.”

We live in a culture that tells us that happiness is the most important thing. Countless advertisements from every direction attempt to convince us that the item or experience, even the feeling that they are showing off, will be the thing that finally satisfies and fulfills us – the thing that will make us happy.

Even the rate of seasonal advertising testifies to this – shortly after Christmas is over, we will see advertisements for spring attire and outdoor supplies. The hoped-for satisfaction in Christmas pleasures will quickly wear off and leave the world searching for the next temporary bandage in a vain attempt to quell a wound that requires much more than an external patch.

I frequently reflect on the difference between happiness and joy from a Christian perspective. Job 5:7 tells us that trouble is an inevitable part of our earthly years, so any attempts to deny or flee from it are futile. And we all know that sin has been a part of our world almost since it came into existence. Even more, we know that as Christians, we are to be joyful despite tribulation. As “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” so eloquently states, our joy is found in the person and work of Christ.

“O come, O branch of Jesse’s stem / unto Your own and rescue them! / from depths of hell your people save / and give them victory o’er the grave.”

God saved me when I was young, and through this, He kept me from years of aimless wandering and searching. But I have heard many testimonies from those whose experience has been very different than mine. Many can testify to the pointless, even destructive, choices they made in their urgent and haphazard quest to find that which would satisfy their deepest wants.

While I am thankful that God spared me from the scars associated with confused choices, I think of the fullness of real and deep joy that these fellow Christians must have experienced when the reality of the gospel’s welcome dawned upon their consciousness.

“O come, O Key of David, come / and open wide our heavenly home / make safe for us the heavenward road / and bar the way to death’s abode.”

“What no eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no human heart has conceived – God has prepared these things for those who love Him” (1 Cor. 2:9). I receive Voice of the Martyrs’ monthly publications and often note the joy in the faces and stories of many who are suffering because of their love for Christ. Their situations are surely not as comfortable as most of our own and I do not want to make light of the intense challenges and risks they face daily. But at the same time, they have discovered the source of true joy, something greater than happiness that sustains them through oppression and sometimes loss of life, a bedrock upon which they can lay the foundation of their existence.

“O come, O King of nations, bind / in one the hearts of all mankind/ bid all our sad divisions cease / and be Yourself our King of Peace.”

As we reflect on the things that bring us the most grief, I think many of us would say that broken relationships are a fundamental cause. God’s grace can bring an element of healing to those damages, but some fractures are beyond repair until heaven.

Around this time of year, there is much talk of “being in the Christmas spirit.” That festive feeling is certainly one of the pleasures of this time of year and there is nothing wrong with enjoying it. But for many people, the holidays are an extremely painful time, whether from destructive and broken family situations, feelings of loneliness, or the simple yet complicated sting of feeling that a “happy” world is whirling along and has left them to watch from the sidelines. Perhaps more than any other season, I think the holiday season may prepare more hearts to receive the gospel as they feel their own emptiness against the backdrop of a glittering yet unsatisfactory world.

“Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel / shall come to thee, O Israel.”

Contemporary Artist Matt Mahar released “Abide with Me” in 2015. The opening line of this contemporary worship song reads “I have a home, eternal home / but for now I walk this broken world.” That line verbalizes the “almost but not quite” of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,”  The stanzas of this carol each reference an aspect of the longed-for Messiah, some in the prophetic terminology of ancient Israel. Each verse in this carol ends with a chorus of joy and confidence, reminding us that Messiah has come, and that real joy is realized through trust in His sacrifice and a growing relationship with Him.

In a way, we are like Israel – watching, waiting, hoping, longing. But we have added confidence and the joy of fellowship with our Savior while we wait. Emmanuel has come, redeemed us, shown us the way to God, and left us with the promise that He will return for us. This is the unwavering source of our joy. For now, we are called to wait. But we wait with the certainty that our joy will one day be complete.

“You reveal the path of life to me; in Your presence is abundant joy; at your right hand are eternal pleasures” (Psalm 16:11).

For the full lyrics of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” visit

Rosalie Chesley serves at the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware as the assistant to the interim executive director and the managing editor of BaptistLIFE.