Last week our church had an evening carol sing. We sang all the old favorites: Joy to the World, O Come All Ye Faithful, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, Jingle Bells, and The Twelve Days of Christmas – including the flourishes on the five golden rings.
One that spoke to my heart that night was “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”.
We began with the Irish whistle and keyboard, the haunting melody and spare accompaniment supporting these words:
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel.
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
As we sang this song, I could picture the Hebrews. I felt their deep longing. For freedom. For peace in their land. Not just wishing or hoping, but LONGING for a Savior.
There was an ache in their souls from grief. Life as they knew it was gone. Their land had been conquered. Again. They were living under occupation. Again. Some of their own leaders were collaborating with the Roman oppressors. They longed for the world to be made right.
That night after I got home from the service, I played the song again. Just me and my piano. I began playing the melody by itself. Then added a few chords. It was spare. Haunting. It sounded like longing.
When the chorus ended, I added a tag of just a few open chords. And the last one didn’t resolve. If you aren’t familiar with music, that means it ended in a way that you wouldn’t think the song was over. You feel as though it should keep going. And then it doesn’t. The song just ends. And you’re left feeling unsettled.
The sound that came out as I played was exactly how I felt. Unsettled. Longing. Just like the Israelites. Longing to live in a world where war doesn’t exist. Where young girls aren’t married off as slaves. Where we don’t shoot people just because of their skin color. Or because they don’t think like us. Where elementary school children are safe in their classroom. A world where we communicate with love, rather than hate, bigotry, or disdain.
I also longed for the touch of my husband’s hand, to sing with him, laugh over silly movies, and cry in the sentimental places. I poured all that longing into my hands as I played.
The world is filled with beauty. The mountains, oceans, flowers, a full moon. The sun sparkling on the water. Smiles that light up people’s faces. Comforting arms. Giving. Protecting. Caring. Sharing. Laughing. Playing. Beauty beyond compare.
At the same time, there is ugliness. War. Oppression. Disease. Death.
We do this dance between beauty and ugliness. Joy and longing. The dance is honest and true. This is life – a symphony of joy and longing. Where the melody goes from major to minor and back again. Where we sometimes rejoice with tears coursing down our cheeks.
What do we do with the longing? Some pray and ask God to do something. Some bury it in busyness. Others medicate with drugs, alcohol, food, or entertainment. We often do whatever we can to avoid feeling the emptiness that comes with longing.
But avoiding it doesn’t work. The emptiness is there under the surface. Eating away at our joy.
What should we do with the longing?
Sit with it. Experience it. Even embrace it. Longing is part of life’s symphony. Longing makes joy that much sweeter. The song more beautiful.
Put it in perspective. Don’t let longing cloud your view of what is beautiful. Gratitude and longing can go hand in hand. When we give thanks for what we have, for the beauty in our lives, it helps us have that perspective
See longing as a call to action. To love more deeply. Serve more wholeheartedly. Give more generously.
Maybe like me you’re experiencing longing during this holiday season.
- For your loved one’s touch
- For your grown children’s presence
- For health
- For a better marriage
- For work
- For your children to be safe
- For relief from chronic pain
If so, you’re not alone. You have company here. And among your own family and friends. They may not talk about it, but it’s there. So embrace it. Put it in perspective. Reach out to those around you. And tell your story here if you want. Join in the song of joy and longing.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
Shalom and Joyous Christmas.