“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel…” This is perhaps the most well-known Advent hymn—one that floods us with the feelings of the coming Christmas season. But the hymn also raises a question. Matthew’s Gospel tells us that “Emmanuel” means “God is with us” (Mt. 1:23). In the song, then, we pray, “O come, O come, God who is already with us!” If He is with us, why are we asking Him to come?
The reason is that, when God comes, He changes and transforms us. Yet we are free to slow down and thwart that process of change. We are often in need of increased openness to God’s work in our lives. God indeed loves us as we are, but He loves us too much to let us remain the way we are. There is more of God that we can receive, more about Him that we can know, more of our old ways that we can cast off, more of the grace of Christ that we can live by.
God wants to come to every corner of our world and transform every aspect of our lives. Though we have received Him before, there are dark corners to which we have not yet invited Him. “O come, O come, God who is with us, come to the places where we have not yet allowed you to transform us. Come and remove the sin we still cling to; come and give us the compassion and virtue we do not yet have!”
There is always more of God to receive. To have received Him in His entirety, one would have to be God. He comes in manifold ways: through created reality and relationships, through prayer, through suffering, through acts of charity, through Scripture, through the ministers of the Church, through the fellowship of believers, and through the Sacraments. He will come again in glory, on a day we do not know, at the culmination of human history.
We ask Him to come and “ransom captive Israel.” He ransoms us personally, and He ransoms us as a society. Praying for His coming, therefore, does not mean simply waiting and looking forward to it: it means preparing. It means casting aside obstacles to Christ’s advent.
One crucial way that our society needs to prepare for the coming of the One who saves us is to work steadfastly to save one another and to eliminate all oppression of the human person. A glaring need here is to restore protection to unborn children. To claim the right to kill children through abortion is to reject the dominion of the One who comes. It is to refuse to make room for the justice He comes to bring.
The beautiful hymn “O Holy Night” sums up God’s saving work in the following verses: “Truly He taught us to love one another; His law is love and His gospel is peace. Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother, and in His name all oppression shall cease!”
Like their forebears, the abolitionists, members of the pro-life movement draw inspiration from this verse. Indeed, preparing the way of the Lord means preparing the way for all our brothers and sisters, born and unborn. As we welcome the Child in Bethlehem, may we welcome all those for whom He came.
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