Present or Absent?
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.
As a teacher I take attendance every day. However, remote learning has thrown off my record-keeping. On my attendance sheet these days, I’ve added markers for “video off” and “technology issues” to the old regulars of “present” and “absent.” Every day I encounter students who are in between presence and absence: I see their face, but it’s frozen. I hear their voice, but it’s glitchy. They are present, but not able to participate. Not absent, but not engaged.
There’s a real tension, this fine line between presence and absence.
I think we Christ-followers know this tension well, the tension between our experiences of God’s presence and of His absence. Christ is here. He is Emmanuel, God with us. We talk with Him and walk with Him. We know his presence. He brings us joy and comforts us. He enfolds us with peace when we need it, and speaks words to guide us when we need those.
Yet, at the same time, we grieve and mourn. We are sad and lonely. This world is hard. The struggles, sicknesses, losses and divisions we deal with on a daily basis surround us and threaten to choke out life. They make us feel God’s absence. Is He really here, with us? He couldn’t possibly be among us here as we fight, or there, amidst that atrocity. Could He?
“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” is a hymn of Advent. Israel is awaiting Christ’s arrival. They don’t have a Savior yet. The hymn expresses the melancholy feelings experienced in that in-between state. The absence is felt. The people are waiting and longing for presence.
Introduce Simeon – an old man who longed for a savior along with all of Israel. In Luke 2:25-35, Mary and Joseph bring Jesus to the temple to make a sacrifice and to offer their son to God as the Law requires. Simultaneously, Simeon is led by the Spirit of God to enter the temple just in time to meet Jesus, to see the Savior face to face. To hold him and touch him. His presence is palpable. He’s real. With Simeon.
And with us. His presence is here. Now. He wants us to reach out to Him as Simeon did. He wants us to recognize Him as Simeon did. Unlike the Israelites, we don’t have to wait any longer for His arrival or wonder what our salvation will look like. We don’t have to question when or how. All we have to do is take the time to recognize Him just like Simeon did.
Jesus is fully present in the midst of our suffering. We can … Rejoice! Rejoice! For Emmanuel HAS COME TO US through Israel. Thanks be to God. Amen.