Christmas was only days away. The church was alive with conversation and laughter as the congregation enjoyed each other’s fellowship. Pastor John Booker may have been in his seventies but he was full of life. He was constantly coming up with something new and fresh to keep the services from becoming a rut of routine religion. And this particular Sunday would be no different.
This year, those who wished to participate would come before the church one at a time and then tell the congregation which traditional Christmas song was their favorite and why. Then the entire church would follow their lead in singing that song. Many had the same songs, but their stories were all so different and wonderful. There was lots of laughter and singing taking place in that tiny country church.
Near the end of the service, Pastor Booker asked if there was anyone else that wanted to participate before the close of the service. A surprised look came over his face as the entire congregation followed his gaze to the raised hand of eighty-nine year old Earl Darby.
Thinking he must have needed something else, Pastor Booker acknowledged his raised hand, because Brother Earl never wasted words beyond a hello or a goodbye. “Brother Earl, did you need something?”
In his weak, frail voice, Earl replied, “Yep, somebody to help me to the front.”
A Deacon immediately went to help him. His cane steadied him on one side as the Deacon supported him on the other. Earl looked at the floor for almost a minute. Many of the congregation wondered if he might have forgotten why he was up there until Earl cleared his throat and began to speak, straining beyond his raspy whisper.
“My favorite Christmas song is O Come, O Come Emmanuel. I never really understood why I was so caught up with the song until I read the second chapter of Luke.
In my Bible I read about a priest named, Simeon. Now old Simeon was a righteous man who was looking for what they called the consolation of Israel. The Holy Spirit was upon this man. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before He had seen the Lord’s Christ. Led by the Holy Spirit, he came into the temple one day just as a man and woman approached, bringing in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the law. When Simeon saw the baby Jesus, he took him up in his arms, blessed God, and said:
Lord, now let Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to Your people Israel. *
Can you imagine yourself as Simeon, holding the Son of God in your arms, the Savior of us all? Can you imagine all the years he had known the rod of the Roman Empire upon the back of Israel, or to hear the prophesies of the coming Messiah all of his life, and then to be told he would not see death until he saw the Lord’s Christ?
Earl paused for a moment as tears streamed down his face. “Can you imagine touching the face of God? Simeon surely received a rare gift. But you know what? We have something Simeon didn’t have – The Spirit of God living in us.”
Earl’s eyes sparkled.
And though this world seems to be going downhill in a hand basket, we have a promise. Just as Simeon waited on the promise of the coming Messiah, we wait on the promise of His return where we shall see His face for eternity. The song, O Come, O Come Emmanuel, has always reminded me of the same promise. He’s coming for all of us.”
And with that Earl startled everyone with his raspy, slightly off-key voice, singing:
“O come, O come Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
Who morns on lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appears”
The teary eyed congregation joined their voices with his. Hearing his heart in his frail voice was the most beautiful thing they had ever heard as they raised their voices as one.
“Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee O Israel
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee O Israel” . . .**
Parts of this story derived from Luke 2:21-38. (KJV)
*Luke 2:29-32 (KJV)
**O come, O come, Emmanuel is a translation of the Christian Latin text ("Veni, veni, Emmanuel") by John Mason Neale in the mid-19th century.
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