Fr. Frank Pavone
National Director of Priests for Life
November 22, 1999

"O Come, O Come, Emanuel, and ransom captive Israel..."

It is perhaps the most well-known Advent hymn, one which begins to flood us with the feelings of the coming Christmas season.

But the hymn raises a question. Matthew's Gospel tells us that "Emanuel" means "God is with us" (Mt. 1:23). So in the song we pray, "O come, O come, God who is already with us!" If He is with us, why are we asking Him to come?

The reason is that when He comes, He changes and transforms us, and because we are free to thwart and slow down that process of change, there is always more changing that we need. God indeed loves us as we are, but He loves us too much to let us remain the way we are. There is more of God that we can receive, more about Him that we can know, more of our old ways that we can cast off, more of the grace of Christ that we can live by. He wants to come to every corner of our world, and transform every aspect of our lives. Though we have received Him before, there are dark corners to which we have not yet invited Him. "O come, O come, God who is with us, come to the places where we have not yet allowed you to transform us. Come and remove the sin we still cling to; come and give us the compassion and virtue we do not yet have!"

There is always more of God to receive. (To have received Him all, one would have to be God.) He comes in manifold ways: through created reality and relationships, through prayer, through suffering, through acts of charity, through Scripture, through the ministers of the Church, through the fellowship of believers, and through the Sacraments. He will come again in glory, on a day we do not know, at the culmination of human history.

We ask Him to come and "ransom captive Israel." He ransoms us personally, and He ransoms us as a society. Praying for His coming, therefore, does not mean simply waiting and looking forward to it. It means preparing for it, and casting aside the obstacles in the way.

One key way that our society needs to prepare for the coming of the One who saves us is to work steadfastly to save one another, and to remove all oppression of the human person. A glaring need here is to restore protection to unborn children. To claim the right to permit the killing of children by abortion is to cease to acknowledge the dominion of the One who comes. It is to refuse to make room for the justice He comes to bring.

The beautiful hymn "O Holy Night" sums it up in the verse that says, "Truly He taught us to love one another; His law is love and His gospel is peace. Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother, and in His name all oppression shall cease!"

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