O Come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer—O Come, O Come Emmanuel, originally in Latin, 8th or 9th century
Our spirits by thy justice here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Emmanuel shall come to thee,
I have always said that I have an Advent soul. It is the liturgical season that resonates most within me. I have joked that it’s because I was baptized during Advent, as if the season we are baptized in was some kind of Zodiac calendar that dictates our spiritual personalities. (No, no. Unless??? Nah.) Still, there is something about the season that stirs my soul in a way that none of the other church seasons, not even Christmas or Easter, begins to touch.
My Advent playlist has seven versions of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” on it. Other people may start Christmas carols as soon as the weather starts to change, while I patiently wait for Christ the King Sunday to pass so I can listen over and over again to those dulcet, somber, haunting tones singing out “rejoice” while praying for Christ to come again.
If my soul had a song to sing to God, it might just be “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” Come, Lord Jesus, come. It’s likely why I get a little bleary-eyed during The Great Thanksgiving when reciting the mystery of faith: Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. Yes. Christ will come again.
This is the faith of my soul, that directs my life: Christ will come again. Emmanuel, God-with-us, will be with us again. And, joyously, this is not my faith alone. I do not cry out this prayer by myself. For generations, Christians have looked toward that day when Christ the Lord will reign over a new heaven and new earth where all wrongs are made right; where justice will roll down like water and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream; where the wolf will lie with the lamb.
In Advent all the church sings with my soul: Come, Lord Jesus, come!
Advent looks toward that day when every relationship is made right, made whole. Between Creator and created and between all of creation. When Christ reigns again, enemies will lay down arms that in turn will become instruments of new life, of the harvest. Families restored. Borders erased. People from every corner of the earth become kin on God’s holy mountain.
Humans, however, are not all there is to God’s creation. As much as we can know of the heart of God, I believe that God must truly want to see all of God’s handiwork redeemed. Where I live, the weather turns cold and gray for months on end. “In the Bleak Midwinter” seems like an apt description of Ohio winters, if not so much Israel-Palestine. Advent reminds me, however, that creation is not dead. It is just lying in wait, still. If I quiet my mind, focus my heart, and turn my attention to God, I can almost sense creation singing, praying, groaning with me.
In Advent, all of creation sings along with all the church and my soul: Come, Lord Jesus, come!
Romans 8 tells us as much: “The whole creation waits breathless with anticipation for the revelation of God’s sons and daughters. … We know that the whole creation is groaning together and suffering labor pains up until now.”
Indeed, we do not cry out this prayer alone. All of creation prays it with us. Listen, do you hear it? That breathless anticipation that all God’s handiwork shares. All of creation saying together: O Come, O Come Emmanuel. Come, Lord, Jesus, Come. Christ will come again.
The vision given to us in Isaiah 11 portrays not just humans but wolves and lambs, leopards and goats, calves and lions, cows and bears, snakes and serpents. Given the Biblical evidence, it is not too wild of a speculation to say that one of the wrongs that will be made right at Christ’s return is the hierarchy and status of non-human animals within creation, their relationships with each other, and humankind’s relationship with them.
Indeed, Romans 8 also says: Creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice—it was the choice of the one who subjected it—but in the hope that the creation itself will be set free from slavery to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of God’s children.
We can find evidence for the redemption of all creation not only in scripture but in our Wesleyan theological heritage. In his sermon, “The General Deliverance,” John Wesley affirms that God hears the groans and cries of all creation and that brute creatures will have deliverance, not annihilation. We all await with bated breath for the day of Isaiah 11 when all creatures will live peaceably together and be redeemed. Many Christians have surmised that creatures would be released from their carnal desires, carnivores turned into herbivores, violent wildness turned tame. Wesley, however, speculates that God may take it a step further so that all creation may be made what we are now. Wesley writes with hopeful conjecture in his sermon:
May I be permitted to mention here a conjecture concerning the brute creation? What, if it should then please the all-wise, the all-gracious Creator to raise them higher in the scale of beings? What, if it should please him, when he makes us “equal to angels,” to make them what we are now—creatures capable of God; capable of knowing and loving and enjoying the Author of their being? If it should be so, ought our eye to be evil because he is good? However this be, he will certainly do what will be most for his own glory.
In essence, in the New Creation, all the animals will be redeemed, restored, raised up to the capacity of knowing, worshiping, and loving the One who created them. The answer isn’t just “all dogs go to heaven”—it’s all dogs (and cats and birds and cows and snakes and sharks and pigs and platypuses and horses and squid and, and, and…) will have the human capacity of reason and be able to consciously love their Creator alongside humans.
To take this one awesome step further: at the day of the general resurrection, in the hopeful knowledge that Christ plans to release all God’s lesser creation from their bonds and elevate them, why would they then be excluded from the resurrection? Indeed on that day it will not just be the beasts of the wild, the farm, and tamed household pets that worship the Lord alongside us, but all that which has become extinct: the mammoth, the megalodon, the tyrannosaurus rex, the black rhinoceros, the dodo, the brachiosaurus, the Rocky Mountain locust, and, and, and… From dinosaurs to beetles, every creature God has ever created is precious and loved in God’s sight and if it should so please the Divine Creator of the universe, God will resurrect and elevate all creation to know, worship, and love God.
In this already-but-not-yet season of Advent, if we pay close attention to the planet and all its animal inhabitants, we can catch glimpses of what is to come, of what will be when Christ returns, of all relationships between God, human, and animal restored.
Glimpses in listening to the pulses of the earth praying with us: Come, Lord Jesus, come!
The realization that this is not just my prayer, not just the prayer of the church, but the prayer of all creation gives me pause this Advent season. I am far from treating all creation like the precious handiwork of God that it is. I confess that, yes, I do eat meat. No, I don’t always recycle every piece of plastic. I try not to think about where those disposable diapers from my little one end up. When I reflect on the general deliverance, my aim isn’t shame or guilt—there is more than enough of that to go around in our broken world.
Instead, my goal is to marvel with reverent wonder at the glory, power, compassion, and love of our God. To be lost in awe at how all-encompassing and complete God’s redemption will be. To live my whole life in anticipation of the New Creation to come and sing with all the more breathless conviction: O come, o come, Emmanuel! Come, Lord Jesus, come! Christ will come again.
And also, I hope to challenge myself and others in Christian community to be better stewards of the earth and all within it. To live into the promises of Advent, that Emmanuel, God-with-us, will come and be with us again, means that we are called to live into the “already” of the already but not yet. How can I already treat all created things in a way that gives honor and glory to their Maker? In a manner that reflects God’s love? That looks toward that day when they too shall be capable of loving God as we do?
This will look different for everyone. I am starting with the realization that it is not just my voice and the voices of church choirs singing for Christ’s return, but the music and song of all creation. This Advent, I am practicing listening more to the world around me: the winter song of the birds, the deer sprinting across empty fields, the cats meowing at the bedroom door to be fed, the fish deep under frozen lakes, the ground still and frozen—not dead, just waiting. Waiting for spring, waiting for Jesus, waiting for redemption, waiting to be made whole. I aim to listen so that I may hear their song, their groans, their labor pains, that together, we await Christ’s return.
O come, o come, Emmanuel. May it be so, sings my soul, the church, and all of God’s creation.
Allison LeBrun (she/her) is an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. An alum of Vanderbilt Divinity, she is back to serving in her home state of Ohio. She spends her days pastoring a congregation, wrangling a toddler, and drinking copious amounts of tea.