“Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel!”

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.

More of an Advent song than a Christmas song,  O Come O Come Emmanuel captures the somber but hopeful, bleak yet expectant reality of living in the Advent season. It also, along with a few other Christmas songs, helped solidify the word “Emmanuel” into common usage.  More than that, it associates it with the expectation that we should invite it to “come”, and that when it does, it is a cause for rejoicing.

As we all hopefully grew up learning, Emmanuel is a Hebrew contraction meaning “God with us”. It is used in the book of Isaiah, and later applied to Jesus in the New Testament. In the Gospel of Matthew’s account of the Christmas story, an angel tells Mary that her child will be called “Emmanuel”. It is natural that we associate Emmanuel with Christmas, since it comes from this narrative. And it follows even more that we celebrate this miraculous, unexpected twist in the grand story of God and humanity – that God would submit to becoming human in order to be with us. “God with us” is a pretty remarkable story, one that few other world religions share.

Do we realize how truly remarkable Emmanuel is? When we think and theologize about God, we are asking questions about God’s existence, God’s nature, God’s actions. Most of are questions are of the “Who”, “What”, and “Why” variety. This Christmas season, can we can ask a question we perhaps have answered too quickly in the past, in light of Emmanuel?

Where is God? 

We all have  a quick response: God is everywhere. We even have a fancy word for it, “omnipresence”. We like to say that God is everywhere, and I believe that is true. There is no place where God is not. God is bigger than any specific location; any house, any building, any city, any country, any anywhere. God’s bigness exceeds our biggest definitions of place, and therefore God is everywhere. It’s an important theological conviction to hold.

But when we think of God as everywhere, doesn’t that feel a little… disengaged?

To say “God is everywhere” can have this unintended effect of making God’s presence seem ubiquitous, or taken for granted. God is almost treated like air. Of course we know that air is in every room, but we don’t exactly take note of it, do we?

But Emmanuel doesn’t mean “God is everywhere”. Emmanuel reminds us that God is here, specifically, and with us.

At Christmas, we are reminded that not only is God everywhere, but everywhere that God is, God is also with us, and specifically in that moment. God is not like the air, simply in the room by default, unnoticed and uninvolved. Emmanuel is the profound conviction that God is intimately involved with us in every place and in every moment.

For this season, instead of thinking of God as everywhere, we might better think of God as infinitely here. 

As we continue in Advent, may we meditate on the where of God. May we seek out God in every here where we may find ourselves. And may it cause us to rejoice.


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