by Michael Ketterhagen
“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel!
And ransom captive Israel.
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear!”
--Gospel of Matthew 1:23; trans by John Mason Neale (1861)
Mary and I chant this verse, while I light a candle on the Advent wreath, before every meal during the Catholic Christian time of Advent preparation. Traditionally, the Advent wreath lighting is a ritual that helps Catholics prepare for the coming of Christmas, the coming of the Birth of the Son of God. However, it means so much more to me than preparing for the birth of a baby in Bethlehem. After all, Jesus, son of Joseph and Mary, has already been born over 2000 years ago.
No, for me it is a deeply spiritual ritual as I am preparing for the experience of the divine fire of light within me, hoping to truly experience through my yoga practices the actual internal fire of Christ and the Holy Spirit through my experience of the pranic light within. According to the yoga tradition, through meditation each of us can experience that Source of life, that light of the divine within ourselves.
That is what my chanting of Matthew’s verse is all about now in my life. I long for the direct experience of the Light of the World, the Presence of Christ, to light up my whole being at this Christmas time. Yet, I am “in exile here” like “Israel,” which means “the God-wrestler,” was when the Jewish people were longing for the Messiah. During that time and I think during most of our time today in the world, humans long for the coming of Light and Peace and Justice and Truth. Humans long for the experience of the Divine in their lives. That is what the Light is all about for Christians (through Christmas), Wiccans (through the solstice celebration), Jews (through Hanukkah), and African-Americans (through Kwanzaa). All the people of the world, even those who call themselves humanists or non-spiritually-oriented people, long for peace and justice. Those physical lights symbolize that deep human desire.
So, when I chant this verse, I am longing for “Emmanuel (God-with-us),” to come within my life. I am not just hoping and believing that that Christ/The Light is always with me, as the yoga tradition says of the pranic fire within. I have periodically sensed the luminous presence of that Source of Life (prana). Now, I long for an “all-out” fullness of the God-within (Emmanuel) to flood my awareness.
Maybe this Christmas I will be blessed with that gift of Light. Maybe God’s Presence will bless my efforts with that full awareness. Then, I will be able to truly sing the chorus of that verse:
“Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!”