Waiting for Deliverance in the Midst of Oppression

One of the most striking things about Advent is the way that it seeks to combine longing for future deliverance with present joy in the midst of waiting. One of the oldest and most beloved advent songs, “O Come O Come Emmanuel,” written in the early 18th century but containing elements that reach all the way back to the eighth, beautifully combines these seemingly contradictory emotions.

O Come O Come Emmanuel And ransom captive Israel That mourns in lonely exile here Until the Son of God appear.

Note the longing and sadness: Israel is captive, mourning in lonely exile. The cry is for God to come. But then note chorus:

Rejoice, Rejoice, Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Yes, there is mourning and longing in the midst of captivity and oppression. But nevertheless, the poet calls us to rejoice, because the Son of God will come. God has promised deliverance, and his word is sure.

O Come Thou Dayspring Come and cheer Our spirits by Thine Advent here. Disperse the gloomy clouds of night And death’s dark shadow put to flight.

Again, note the pain: we are in sadness and in need of cheering. Night’s gloomy clouds hang all about us. Death’s dark shadow suffocates us. And again the chorus rings out:

Rejoice, Rejoice, Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel.

The pattern continues in the remaining verses. And this pattern is meant to instruct us. We are waiting in a land of deep darkness. We are burdened with a heavy yoke; we are bruised by the rod of the oppressor. Pain and Death are everywhere Pain of broken relationships. Death from cancer. Families and communities wracked by accusation, bitterness, and confusion. Terrorist attacks. Envy, strife, and sorrow abound on every side. And so we mourn, we grieve, we ache. We cry out, “Come Emmanuel!”

But we do so in hope. We do so with joy. In the midst of the oppression, in the midst of the sorrow, in the midst of the captivity, we rejoice. Or at least, we’re called to. It’s never easy, and we stumble in many ways. But God’s word remains sure.

This reminds us of our need to confess our sins, so let’s seek him together now.

Prayer of Confession

Our Father and God, we live among a people who are exiled from you, who are alienated from the life of God. Our alienation, our loneliness is owing to our ignorance, and our ignorance is owing to the hardness of our hearts. This hardness has darkened our understanding and made our minds futile. We have become callous, and in our callousness, we have given ourselves up to sensuality and impurity. Our loneliness, our captivity, is entirely and wholly deserved. We have rejected you and therefore found ourselves lost, broken, confused, and mired in bondage to sin. These are great evils.

What’s more, as your covenant people, our exile is real, even if it is temporary. We too grow hardened in our sin. We grow calloused. We too try to quench our thirst in the dust and grime of sin. And so we feel the loneliness of our distance from you. Forgive us, O God, for our complacency in our loneliness, for our fatalism and resignation, for our unbelief in the promise that you will come. Help us to believe. Help us to rejoice in hope even in the midst of our ache and longing for Emmanuel to come.

We know, Father, that if we in the church regard sin in our own midst or in our own hearts, our prayers will be ineffectual. So we confess our individual sins to you now.

Assurance of Pardon

Let’s stand for the Assurance of Pardon. In the midst of sorrow, God has increased your joy. Though every man has been a liar, God has remained faithful. He has removed the burden of sin, broken the rod of Satan’s oppression. You have confessed your sins. You have acknowledged your iniquity. Therefore, by the authority of Jesus Christ, and as a minister of his gospel, I declare to you the entire forgiveness of all your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Congregation: Thanks be to God!