When I listen to Christmas music, my heart and my head partner up for a merry little waltz. They swirl and twirl around my insides until I feel dizzy with Christmas cheer. The dancing gets me all riled up to scale a Christmas tree or spend an entire day with Buddy the Elf. I, too, want to put maple syrup on everything.
But I’m particular about Christmas carols.
Every time I hear “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” it reminds me of the deployment Christmas two years ago, when Mike was off saving the world in Afghanistan and I was here in America feeling homesick for him.
That song makes my insides revolt into dancing that’s more like krumping. In fact, the dancing is so violent that it rattles my insides and threatens to break my glass heart all over again. Deployment has a way of making the whole world feel like it’s made of glass: fragile and sharp around the edges.
But the deployment year was the year I earned my favorite Christmas carol: O Come O Come Emmanuel. It taught me how to wait for something and carol to myself in the meantime.
‘O Come’ is a song about waiting. It’s the most appropriate carol for those who choose to rejoice at Christmas even when their waitings haven’t arrived yet. The choice feels significant, since the holidays don’t really resolve things, they just celebrate in the midst of them.
‘O Come’ begins with a collection of minor chords that don’t resolve into major chords. They just hang there, like the notes themselves feel unsettled in the melody. The words are pleading too, since the verses are not declarations, but requests: O come. Ransom us. Cheer us. Bid our divisions cease… be our King of Peace.
It is the sound of unanswered prayer, a collection of questions that end with a period.
I love ‘O Come’ because it is the Christmas song I can carol most honestly to in a deployment year or otherwise. It seems that every Christmas I feel homesick something, kicking around unanswered prayers or circumstances that sound like minor keys. I know I’m not the only one. Christmas just gives us all a festive voice to ask for holy nearness.
‘O Come’ is an invitation that begs for Emmanuel, “God with us,” to intervene. A song with a necessarily human structure, allowing us to sing out of the need of “o come” before arriving at the celebration of “shall come.”
Most of all, it is a song about the homesickness that occurs while waiting for someone to come and save the world.
But Jesus came. And we all got to unwrap this shiny gift that made our insides dance for the very first time. It gets me all riled up for caroling that sounds a lot like worship, the kind that is honest and redemptive at the same time.
We rejoice while we wait. God is here, with us, the response to our unresolved carols.
(See the full lyrics here.)