Peter J. Leithart points out that N. T. Wright has spoiled Christmas for him. After reading Wright all he can hear in the carols are all about Israel and the (re) establishment of the davidic Kingdom. This is a great point, and one that I made in a recent Sunday School series on the “hymns” in Luke’s birth narratives. it is amazing to me how political the songs of Zechariah, Mary, and Simeon are. O Come Emmanuel is a great example of this, since it is based on the hymns of Luke 1-2. How would a first century Jewish listener understand these words — “Ransom captive Israel”?
I realized this when I visited Israel the first time in 2003. We went into St Anne’s church, a beautiful little church dedicated to the mother of Mary. The church is ideal of singing, so out group gathered around, but I am not the person who ought to be starting out a hymn. Nancy Robinson (a music major with a lovely voice) realized this and began to sing O Come Emmanuel. Not only did it sound fantastic, it brought to mind all sorts of political and spiritual connections to both the past situation of Israel in the land and their present state.