The Promise of Restoration (Advent 4)

By Chris Arce

In this season of my life, my heart has been heavy for the U.S. This past semester, I took three courses that in different ways touched on saddening aspects of our country. I learned the struggle for sovereignty that indigenous people are still involved in to this day in a seminar of the history of the Iroquois. I learned about the ways in which many poor Americans face different institutional barriers that prevent them from reaching economic security and stability in a class on poverty. I learned about how the denial of the right to vote and equal rights to my people, Puerto Ricans, and how such discrimination has allowed for the impoverishment and economic suffocation of the Island, giving way to a nearly fifty percent poverty rate, in my major seminar on democracy and representation in the U.S.

For a while, leading up to, and even during, the season of Advent, I was sad about the state of affairs of this country. I was frustrated by the injustices that continue to impact people and things I know and care deeply about, and I was frustrated that these issues were not receiving the attention that I believed they deserved. Christ knows and understands that there will be seasons of life in which we are sad. The shortest verse in the Bible, John 11:35 says so simply yet beautifully: “Jesus wept” (ESV). To be sad by itself is not problematic. However, once sadness becomes the lense through which we view the world, it becomes problematic and not Gospel-centered. Unfortunately, during this season of my life, I began to view the world from a vantage point that filtered everything through my sadness. My focus was on the brokenness of the world around me, and how horrible it was. I despaired for a while.

A brother in Christ reminded me that I was not trusting in God’s plan for the afflicted and oppressed peoples, that I was forgetting that such oppression did not surprise God. I was forgetting God’s promise, described in Revelation 21:4, to one day “wipe away every tear from their eyes,” and that one day “death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (ESV). Moreover, I was forgetting the miracle of Christmas, that God became a man in order to do away with sin and injustice.

In this Advent season, O Come O Come Emmanuel especially resonates with me, as the song beautifully reminds me of the promise for the day when Jesus Christ will restore us:

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.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny
From depths of Hell Thy people save
And give them victory o’er the grave
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

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

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel

Shall come to thee, O Israel.
O come, O come, Thou Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai’s height,
In ancient times did’st give the Law,
In cloud, and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.[1]

The song begins referencing Israel’s state of exile and bondage, but calls Israel to rejoice, making clear that such a state will end upon the Son of God’s return. The next stanza reminds us of Jesus’ victory over the grave, his victory over sin. His victory disperses the “gloomy clouds of night,” defeating death and suffering, closing the “path to misery,” ending the trials and hardships of life with his return. The image of Jesus opening “wide our heavenly home” is a reminder that our time on Earth is temporary, and that our home is in Heaven. And that home is perfect.

The song is rich with biblical lessons, but in this season of Advent, what soothes my heart is the focus on Jesus’ return–the day when there is no longer suffering; where there are no systems of oppression; where there is no injustice; where we only experience euphoria, joy that we will not even come to close to experiencing on Earth; where we can rejoice in God’s awesome presence. In a broken world, where so many innocent people suffer under systems that they have no control over, I am able to be hopeful, empowered, energized, and encouraged by the this promise of restoration.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

This blog post continues a series which will use different hymns to partake in Advent and to help staff and readers alike prepare for Christmas.

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Want to know more about Chris? Read his bio here.

[1] Latin author unknown, English translation John Mason Neale, 1851.

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