The ransom of captives
By Sam Askew
“O come; O come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel. That mourns in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appears. Rejoice! Rejoice, Emmanuel. Shall come to thee of Israel.”
Such is the text of the familiar Advent hymn. The text itself is of the sixth century. The tune dates to the 12th century. The original was sung in the Latin text, “Veni, veni Emanuel! Captivum solve Israel!” The melody is as timeless as is the theology of the words. God has the authority and power to ransom all who are held captive to the sins of the world.
The word ransom is not one used in daily conversation and yet the meaning is well known. We are aware of a time in history, especially as is shared in the biblical texts, when Israel as a nation was captive and many of its citizens were exiles. Indeed, in the modern world many people have found themselves living as exiles. Where might we get a glimpse of those who are captive and being held for ransom?
My mind went quickly to the world wide web through which institutions of government, medical care and industry are being attacked. Discovering a breach in the securing of information, essential files became inaccessible to those who relied on them. Access would be granted but would also be costly. The files were being held for ransom. Consideration had to be given as to how essential the files are.
There are captives being held ransom who live in poverty. Attempts are made by many with caring hearts to ransom families with a box of holiday food, presents of clothes, toys for children, and gift cards. But the ransom paid is insufficient to fend off the captive power of poverty.
There are abused spouses held in captivity. The ransom demanded was thought to be a change in oneself, to be more alert to the triggers of abuse, to hold out until the children are grown. This person knows what it is to morn in lonely exile for fear of embarrassment or more pain. It is a life of continued suffering and insufficient ransom available.
Obviously the COVID-19 virus holds us captive. The effectiveness and cost of a vaccine is not likely to sufficiently provide the ransom to completely free us. The captor is as of yet not truly identified because of the discomfort it would cause. It is suggested that the captor could be circumstantial events, and act of God, or the act of a nation or national leaders. But it could be as a member of the congregation I serve said, “we want all things our way no matter the cost to others.” How ironic that personal freedom should be a captor.
Sing from your heart or through a face mask with a joyful voice. Rejoice because Emmanuel, meaning God with us, shall come and ransom all from their captivity. When God is with us, the light of truth and love for neighbor abound. Pray therefore for all who find themselves exiles and captives in need of being ransomed. Maybe God will enable your prayers, your voice, your reflection, your effort of justice and mercy to serve as the instrument to defeat those who are the captors demanding ransom.
“O come, Desire of nations, bind all peoples in one heart and mind. Bid envy, strife and quarrels cease. Fill the whole world with heaven’s peace. Rejoice, Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee O Israel.” (Verse added in 1916 by the Rev. Henry Sloan Coffin, a former president of Union Theological Seminary in New York City and noted Presbyterian theologian of his era.)
Your servant in Christ,
Sam Askew is the pastor of Windsor Congregational Christian Church. Contact him at 757-242-4794.