One of the traditional hymns we hear during the Advent season includes this haunting line:
O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.
This is certainly a season of anticipation–but anticipation for what? The answer comes in numerous ways: deliverance, the release of the captive, a proclamation of a year of liberty. It is remarkable how the idea of freedom so permeates the season.
In a grand, eschatological sense, the freedom for which the heart of man most deeply longs is freedom from the bondage of sin and death. Political, economic, and personal freedom are critical, but the fundamental freedom is salvation. And it is this confrontation with the mystery of human redemption that may appear at first to be a contradiction: How can it be said that sin, which must be freely chosen in the first place, results in bondage?
The answer is that the freedom of which the Scriptures speak is not the freedom to do what we want, but the liberty to choose what we ought. Even God himself permits us to choose sin–so great is his commitment to our dignity that he will never force our free will. Yet he stands ready at any moment to show us what true liberty means.
And when we encounter that freedom, we will understand more fully than ever the words of Jesus–“If the Son will make you free, you shall be free indeed”–as well as the final refrain of the ancient hymn: “Rejoice, rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”
Fr. Robert A. Sirico