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Freedom In the Air

Saturday, December 18th, 2010

This week’s Free Ride* muses on the lyrics of the hymn, O Come O Come Emmanuel, that wonderful and mournful Advent carol of longing and anticipation. Advent, a word from the Latin advenir that means “to come,” puts me in mind of my time in Cuba, and the constant cry among the kids calling for our attention, ven aquí! ven aquí! beckoning us to come here, come here! and engage with them. The hymn writer, in similar fashion, (Veni, Veni Emmanuel, in the original Latin), beckons Christ to ven aquí! ven aquí! and engage the human situation of captivity and exile. I am drawn to the oft neglected third verse, especially in this blog about freedom, for its plaintive call for a liberator to come to earth –

O Come, thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny
From depths of Hell Thy people save
And give them victory o’er the grave

Lyrics of freedom, as I have discovered in doing research for this blog site,  show up in every genre, and the songs of Advent and Christmas have especially wide appeal. O Come O Come Emmanuel is a prime example; you can find covers of this carol in everything from choral and symphonic music to hardcore metal, bluegrass, country, rock, pop, jazz, soul, Celtic, etc etc. Just do a quick survey of ITunes  or YouTube and you’ll be able to listen to the longing for Emmanuel to come from the likes of Cher, August Burns Red, Boys II Men, Andy Griffith, Sixpence None the Richer, Neil Diamond, Diamond Rio, Clay Aiken, Jessica Simpson, Olivia Newton-John, the Carpenters, Bryan Sutton, Bette Midler, Enya, Wynona Judd, Christopher Cross, and Whitney Houston, just to name a few of the hundreds, if not thousands, that you can find. Our praise band at Ecclesia did our own take, mixing it in with a couple of unlikely medley selections from Phil Collins and Bill Gaither. The result – Jesus Is Coming In the Air Tonight can be found by clicking on the link, where you can hear part of the song during a rehearsal.

Whatever the style, and whoever sings it, the aching desire for God to come and free us from tyranny is consistent throughout. Free thine own from Satan’s tyranny. That line, in the context of Christmas captivity to materialistic madness, reminds me of one of Wendell Berry’s poems, where he writes,

We who prayed and wept
for liberty from kings
and the yoke of liberty
accept the tyranny of things
we do not need.
In plenitude too free,
we have become adept
beneath the yoke of greed.

What a thought, that we could become too free in our plenitude. Liberate us from the tyranny of such freedom, Wendell Berry seems to be saying to our world that has become captivated by greed, even as it has thrown off the yoke of dictators and tyrants. Technology and the latest device now dictates our lives. O come, O come Emmanuel, and free us. The chorus give us hope that such liberation can and will happen – rejoice! rejoice! Emmanuel shall come. And Phil Collins give us reason to think it can happen in our lifetime, even now – I can feel it coming in the air tonight, O Lord.

*Free Ride is a Saturday blog that takes a different song each week and muses on the lyrics of freedom. You can click on the live links in the post to hear various versions of the song by different artists. If you have a favorite “freedom” song (it could be any song that has the word free or freedom in it), feel free to suggest it in the comment box below. As always, your feedback and comments are welcome.



  • December 20, 2010 at 5:33 am

    After the anticipation of “Oh Come, oh come, Emmanuel” try “Oh Holy Night” — “Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother,” etc.

    Comment by Sam Bingham

  • December 20, 2010 at 8:47 am

    Thanks Sam, great suggestion. I love the version you have on CD.

    Comment by Stan

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