I love the old Christmas Hymn; O Come O Come Emmanuel
…and ransom captive Israel… To me it captures the spirit of where the world—were even my own heart was—before I recognized the significance of the one who had come on that lonely dark night in a sheep shelter so long ago, the one who would grow up and announce:
“…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Mat 20:28
For generations, From Adam and Eve to Noah, Job to Abraham, Joseph to Moses, Joshua to David, Esther to Ruth, Isaiah to John the Baptist, people waited in expectation for their redemption, longed to see the promised salvation, the end of the curse, the end of the reign of evil on this earth and in the hearts of man—they waited for the Messiah, the anointed one to come and ransom those who longed for his coming.
Then he came, humble and riding on the foal of a donkey, a son of a carpenter born in a sheep shelter with no witnesses or fanfare save for a few shepherds with a fantastic story about Angels appearing out of nowhere, in the middle of nowhere. He came and proclaimed himself the way, the truth and the life and he opened the door to heaven—he did more than open it, he blew it open— and let the light, his light, flood the hearts of all who looked up to see it, of all who look to him. The world at last was ransomed, not just Israel, but all of us who would deign to walk through that door.
We were no longer left in the dark to wonder what lie beyond the door, who held the keys, or where the door even was. The truth has set us free and invited us in.
Back in August Donna and I took a long weekend to run away and relax. The first night we rented a cabin up at Silver Gate, on the edge of Yellowstone Park. We arrived in Silver Gate in the evening and stopped at the general store there that doubles as the check in counter. We got our key and directions to our cabin about a half mile away, and got settled in. It was a beautiful evening and I went out and sat in one of the chairs they had set up in front of our cabin and just soaked up the quiet.
Soon Donna came out and sat with me and we watched the sky darken over the mountains and enjoyed the cool mountain air, that is until it started to sprinkle. Time to go in. Guess what?- the door is locked. “Where’s the key?- I don’t have it, I left it on the table— why is the door even locked— I don’t know, I guess it’s just always locked.”
“Let’s go check the window.” We walk around to the side window, the only window, which is open, except for the screen which is screwed into a wooden frame. And sitting there on the table, just two feet away from us in our brightly lit, snug and dry cabin, sits the key to the front door. I can see no way to get the screen loose without wrecking something.
Well, we could drive back to the general store and get another key, except, the Durango is locked and the keys are sitting on the table right next to the cabin key. Can’t even sit in the car to get out of the rain. “Can we call someone? No, my phone is in the car and we don’t have service here anyway.”
So here we stand, in the drizzle, staring into the cabin through the window just trying to wish our way into the cabin— it looks so nice in there, sure wish we were in there! The guy at the store had told us they closed at 9:00 and it was just about 9:00.
So I have this little dialogue going on in my head, only you guys can relate to this:
I can walk to the store but even if I get lucky and there is someone still there by the time I get there, I will feel like a fool. I could cut this screen with my pocket knife in a heartbeat and be inside— but then I would have to pay for the damages. We could just sleep on the front porch— no, Donna would never go for that. She wants me to go to the cabin next door and ask for help— that’s even more embarrassing and what are they going to do, give us a cup of hot cocoa and a blanket?
Time to man up— After a few very long minutes of standing there in the rain looking longingly at our keys sitting in the nice warm cabin I announce that I am going to walk to the store and hope for the best. I screw my old cowboy hat down tight and head up the road leaving Donna on the deck under the awning— at least she’s out of the rain.
I get to the store and find the clerk standing on the porch having a smoke and visiting with a local— great, another witness to my embarrassment— and feeling like the consummate stupid tourist, but real glad he is still there I announce; “Guess what I did!” Without missing a beat he says’ locked yourself out didn’t you.” The bearded mountain man local snickers and I give him my best ‘whatever’ look and follow the clerk into the store where he hands me another key saying; “It happens all the time.”
I walk back to the cabin—now the hero and very relieved—and unlock the door to our little log sanctuary that suddenly feels like a little piece of heaven and I promptly put the key in my pocket.
That’s what the world felt like for all those years before Jesus came; standing in the dark damp night looking in through a little window just wishing you could figure out how to get in, wondering how much trouble you will be in if you try to force it, wondering if it’s too late to get help, wishing you could call out and get help. The minutes of hopelessness and despair seem like forever and then one day, help arrives and opens the door.
That help is Jesus and we were the ones standing in the dark.
7 So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers; but the sheep did not heed them. John 10:7,8
The story of the world longing for rescue isn’t just some vague long ago notion of the ancient world longing for the Messiah, we have all been there. Every heart that has ever wondered if there is a God, if there is a heaven and; ‘How do I get there? Do I have a purpose, what is the way, what is the truth?’ And then somehow, somewhere you had an encounter with Jesus and he whispered to your heart these words:
I am the way, the truth and the life— just believe. There are no real words to explain what happens in a heart at that moment, but it is a wonderful thing. And that’s why we celebrate the coming of the Savior, Jesus Christ of Nazareth.
If you have not yet experienced the coming of your Savior- “Behold I stand at the door and knock” -Just open up your heart and let him in.