This is, hands down, my favorite Christmas carol. There’s something about the bipolar nature of it, perhaps—-I mean, really look at the lyrics! “Ransom captive Israel…rejoice, rejoice!”
Perhaps it’s not being bipolar. It’s hope. It’s melancholy, soul-burning, swelled-crescendo hope that gets compressed into this one song that echoes in my head through the year, because I know what it is to be captive.
I’m not going to get terribly personal and uncomfortable on you, don’t worry. I have no desire to get into who or what I really am on a public blog, contrary to the desires of much of our culture; I don’t get the need to share the most intimate parts of yourself with others at all. But I will say that I know what it is to be captive to something, or someone, or even just to myself. I know what it is to desperately search for freedom, to cry out to Whoever might be listening. And I’m willing to bet you know it, too, although you may never have thought of it that way.
I feel a little off this morning because I have a student who is making my life difficult due to disliking his grade; he feels as though he’s entitled to a different one if only he’ll make enough noise. I find this irksome and incredibly odd—-you come to class, you work, you get the corresponding grade. That’s how the system works. Yet it doesn’t always—-a dear friend of mine is facing dismissal because of a grade in limbo from a professor who has been reported to the university for his actions several times and yet is still employed there. And my own year-long struggle with grades has just this term ended, and the decompression from that was far less controlled than I wanted it to be. (Yet another instance in which I thank God for Interpreter and Ron and their combined willingness to tell me to keep going, even when they don’t have a clue what’s going wrong.)
But then I sit down and really look over the week in the light of this song and realize that, sometimes, the “depths of Hell” aren’t that far at all. Nor are they lasting, and letting the soft insistence of the command to rejoice settle into my very bones allows me to see past the students who don’t care, the professors who should never teach, the friends who have not been friends, the stress, the worry, the underbelly of life that threatens to overwhelm the vibrant nature of hope.
In my mind, this song is meant to be low, slow and contemplative. There are many other versions that are not so, and that’s okay too. But for me, this is embracing the idea that Israel, God’s chosen people, had to wait a hella long time for this Emmanuel, this God With Us, this promised savior who would pull them out of the lonely mourning of being homeless, rootless, hopeless. This is reminding me that a whole nation waited, waited for centuries—-some are still waiting, in fact. But still they rejoice, still they understand that the light of Christmas is brighter than the darkness of everything else, that the star shines through the night to guide us to the One for whom we’ve been waiting, the One who will deliver us from captivity of every kind, gloomy clouds that cover the night, and paths of misery that everyone walks and no one understands.
Merry Christmas, Reader. May your holiday be filled with this hope that even in the darkest part of the waiting, of the night, the Light cannot be extinguished; even a single candle flame can be the fire of the heart.
I will be glad and rejoice because of your constant love. You see my suffering; you know my trouble. You have not let my enemies capture me; you have given me freedom to go where I wish. (Psalm 31:7-8, GNT)