My love for this song began in elementary school. My class was to sing it during the Christmas program and we learned it inside and out, the music, the words, the meaning behind those words.
One day during practice I felt as though I could feel Israel’s desperation, calling out in her exile for her Messiah. I remember tearing up, and quickly hiding my watery eyes before a classmate or teacher noticed.
It’s a very vivid memory for me. We all have memories from our childhood that seem set apart. The day this song opened up for me is one of mine.
In December 2004, we were having what my mother calls “Christmas shopping weather”, cold, wet, dark, and drizzly. My home decorated for Christmas, the tree up, a fire in the fireplace, it was just where I wanted to be on a day like that. It was not where Nani wanted to be. She had insisted on being outside on the deck despite the weather, and barring major restraint or calling in the military there is no keeping her inside when she wants to be outside. All my efforts to entice her into the house were rebuffed.
My home wraps around my deck with a wall of windows and every time I passed by I could see her there, lying on a bench in the wet and cold, an arm draped over her eyes. It hurt my heart.
At one point I stopped and watched her, thinking the situation such a picture of autism. An invisible barrier between us, autism holding her captive in her world, I wanting her in mine. I wanted her to experience warmth and comfort, but was powerless to make that happen on so many levels. Standing there I reminded the Lord how much this still hurt after more than 20 years. I wondered if it would always be painful. I wondered if he was listening.
I was still standing there teary eyed when my door bell rang. I opened the door to find a friend dropping by unexpectedly. As she stepped into my entry she immediately saw Nani on the deck and was obviously taken back by the sight. She and I stood side by side, silently watching the drizzle fall on Nani’s red parka.
After a long moment I said, “She won’t come inside.” My friend nodded sadly and said,
“O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.”
And my heart ached a little less as I remembered the refrain,
“Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”
Come, Lord. We’re waiting.