Advent is simply defined as “the period leading up to Christmas in the Christian church’s year.”[i] It is a time of preparation and anticipation. This Advent season I have marveled at the enormous peace I have felt inside myself. It’s odd; national and world events and turmoil, personal tasks and to-do lists, recklessly giddy children, and even reason seem to defy the possibility of any inner peace. Yet, it’s been my companion these days, so prevalent it’s tangible. I’ve decided it is Advent itself, with the lights, music, and hearts turned toward Christ that is stilling my soul. As I prepare and anticipate the beloved celebration of His first coming, I’m keenly aware that we are also in the Advent of His Second Coming, but it somehow provides a sustaining serenity.
“O Come, O Come Emmanuel” has forever been a song I’ve loved to hear, even before I really knew what it was about. I’ve always at least understood the longing in it. I’ve wondered about the people living the thousands of years before Christ’s birth, being taught that the Savior, Emmanuel, would one day come to deliver them from sin and death. How did they look forward to that? Now, knowing that He was here, that He came as foretold, but living in these current times that were also foretold, I understand that longing and the hope and expectancy.
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.
Probably the oldest carol still sung today, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” is also probably the only true Advent carol. All other Christmas carols detail the actual event of Christ’s birth, or express the joy and rejoicing of what the event means for us. “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” is the only one singing of the anticipation, of prophecy and waiting for fulfillment. Originating as one of the “Great Antiphons,” it was written by a monk or priest before 800 A.D. and sung in Latin during Advent vespers, one verse per day being sung or chanted during the last seven days before Christmas. (To get a taste of what that was like then, watch this video of Mannheim Steamroller’s “Veni, Veni” put to pictures of Catholic cathedrals and monasteries.)
About a thousand years later a remarkable man by the name of John Mason Neale translated the chant into English. Neale was a brilliant Anglican priest who could speak and write more than twenty languages, yet his intelligence and insight was feared because he was a free thinker. He was sent away to the coast of Africa where it was thought he could do no harm to the church. So instead of having a pastorate in London as planned, but instead of giving up on what he perceived as his calling, he made a radical move and established the Sisterhood of St. Margaret, an orphanage, a school for girls, and a house of refuge for prostitutes. (He is also the English translator of “Good Christian Men, Rejoice” and the author of “Good King Wenceslas.”) His translation of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” was a great gift to the people of the Dark Ages, most of who could not read nor have access to the Bible, because it was a rare example of how the Old and New Testaments came together in the birth and life of Jesus.[ii] (See Isaiah 7:14 and Matthew 1:22-23)
Because of Advent, Christmas is a season, not just a day. I’m thankful for that because I need all the peace and focus on Christ I can get. I’ve always tried to use this time to teach my children even more of Christ and how to emulate Him, and there are many ways to do that. However, this year I decided to let the children teach us. I determined three things to ponder this Advent season and posed these questions to some homeschooled children. Here are the questions and answers.
In Matthew 16:15 Jesus asks Peter, “Whom say ye that I am?” How would you answer that question? Who is Jesus to you?
Eliza L., 6, North Logan, Utah: “My King. My Savior.”
Emily A., 8, Paradise, Utah: “I would tell Him He’s Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
Jonny G., 7, Providence, Utah: “The Lord of the whole world. My Lord.”
Matthew G., 13, Providence, Utah: “The person I look up to.”
McKenna B., 9, Petersboro, Utah: “He is a loving, compassionate person who brings me a lot of comfort, especially at night.”
Brent L., 10, North Logan, Utah: “The living God and the Savior of all men.”
Tabitha M., 9, of Logan, Utah: “Jesus to me is the person who made it so that we could come to earth and be together with our families forever, so we could love one another, and He set the example for us.”
Ptolemy T., 17, Nibley, Utah: “He is the Light of the World. The true and living God. Our older brother. The most caring person in the world.”
Rachel H., 6, North Logan, Utah: “He is the Savior. If He came down right now, I could tell it was Him by the holes in His hands and feet.”
Psadi T., 8, Nibley, Utah: “He is loving and kind.”
Matthew B., 15, Redmond, Washington: “A brother who cares for me and will do whatever it takes for me to return to our Father in Heaven.”
Sam A., 11, Paradise, Utah: “The King. The person who gave life to everyone. Someone who didn’t sin and someone I’d want to be around.”
Christopher B., 14, Redmond, Washington: “The one sent by God to guide His children and help them along the way.”
Ptallan T., 10, of Nibley, Utah: “My Savior. He’s my hero!”
Cordelia L., 2, North Logan, Utah: “Baby.”
How can you come to know Jesus and be more like Him?
Joshua G., 10, Providence, Utah: “Read the Book of Mormon.”
McKenna B.: “’I’m Trying to Be Like Jesus’ is my favorite song. When I serve others I become like Jesus.”
Brent L.: “Follow His commandments.”
Christopher B.: “Read the scriptures and act on it.”
Adria M., 11, Logan Utah: “[By] singing Primary songs, reading the scriptures, and going to church.”
Eliza L.,: “By loving one another. And try to do things very nice to people.”
Psadi T.: “Follow His teachings.”
Sam A.: “I can take a deep breath every time I get angry. I can learn about Him and get a good education.”
Ptolian T., 15, Nibley, Utah: “Learn about Him and act like He did.”
Matthew G.,: “Pray.”
Ptolemy T.: “Care for other people. Love others no matter what they do or say. Choose to always do what’s right.”
Tabitha M.: “We can go to church and help and love one another.”
Rachel H.: “By listening, by reading the scriptures, by loving one another and not hurting others. And get married in the temple.”
Evelyn L., 4, North Logan, Utah: “Like loving one another and like cleaning up.”
Jonny G.: “Follow His example.”
What are you looking forward to most about Jesus Christ’s Second Coming?
Ptobias T. 12, Nibley, Utah: “I am looking forward to finally meeting Him in person.”
Julia F., 8, Nibley, Utah: “…when He comes again, lions are going to be friends with lambs. That He can tell me things, that He was resurrected and stuff.”
Emily A., 8, Paradise, Utah: “I’m looking forward to seeing if I was good enough to go to the Celestial Kingdom with my family. I want my family there, too.”
Brent L.: “That there will be peace on the entire earth.”
Madison B., 7, of Petersboro, Utah: “I want to be resurrected and twinkled.”
Eliza L.: “Seeing Him and knowing how He feels. And what His voice would be like.”
Matthew B.: “The ability to look upon the face of our Redeemer and for the resurrection of the dead.”
Ptallan T.: “Looking at Him and to let Him know I like Him, and seeing my dog, Shire, and bunny, Oreo.”
McKenna B.: “So we can build the New Jerusalem. I want Him to be our leader...”
Jessica B., 12, Redmond, Washington: “I’m looking forward to a world at peace and to never have fighting, and I also want to see Him.”
Ben A., 9, Paradise, Utah: “I want to meet Him and see all my ancestors.”
Jonny G.: “Everybody on the whole earth will be good and obey the law.”
Evelyn L.: “Jesus. Loving. Because Jesus wants to come here because He loves us.”
Ptolemy T.: “Being able to finally see Christ face to face and to get a hug from Him.”
Emmanuel, or Immanuel, means God with Us. How fitting that the name describes what people hoped for centuries ago, and what we look for now. In this Advent season, as you anticipate the celebration of Emmanuel, gather your children to study the prophecies and fulfillments and to draw near to Him; contemplate who He is, ponder what He did and does, and consider His return. Keep in mind John Neale, who though persecuted for his goodness even from within his own church, never gave up on the stirrings within. Remember that “there is peace in righteous doing” and do it.[iii]
Finally, a perfect addition to Advent is this perfect rendition and depiction of God with us.
[i] Scholastic Children’s Dictionary
[ii]Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas by Ace Collins, pp. 126-131
[iii] LDS Hymn 239 “Choose the Right”