“Some music gets stuck in your head. This gets stuck in your soul,” so was the comment about a recent cover of this well-loved Christmas carol. Rooted in time, the original Latin text dates back to the 8th or 9th century, was combined with a familiar tune from the 15th century, together modified in the 18th century, and in the 19th century finally blossomed with up to 8 verses. When sung today during Advent by large choirs in lofty cathedrals or minor carolers in lowly courtyards, this minor-key Christmas Lament still captures the soul.

This carol captured my soul long before I understood that I even had one. As a one-room, grade-school, country boy, I sat in the town’s expansive high school auditorium. The annual choral Christmas Concert was about to begin. The lights dimmed and we sat, hushed in near darkness yet firmly held with anticipation. Out in the hallway, following the quietly blown tone from a pitch pipe, the choir softly began the opening notes singing, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel…and ransom captive Israel.”

Two rear auditorium doors opened and choral voices once seemingly far away, suddenly became audibly and visibly present, slowly coming down both isles. I hardly moved, outwardly transfixed by the somber procession of robed choral singers, each holding a single battery-lit candle. Passing by with measured step and measured voice they sang, “that mourns in lonely exile here…until the son of God appear.”

As the choir reached the front and ascended the opposing stage steps. I was inwardly enraptured by the gathering multitude of lights and growing strength of many voices. They criss-crossed on the stage in front and up to position on the risers, all the verses had been sung. With faces warmly aglow and voices fully audible, the choir broadly concluded, “Rejoice, Rejoice, Immanuel has come to thee…O Israel.”

Though a mournful lament, I felt strangely warmed with hope. I remember quietly thinking to myself, “One day, one day, I will be old enough to join the senior choir, and enter with lighted candle in hand, to sing that special song.” It so captured me then that many years later I actually did! Now, many decades of Advent seasons later, each time it is played or sung, its abiding presence and haunting cry awakens something deep within my soul.

This year I heard the carol again, for the first time. One particular phrase, previously overlooked, got stuck in my head. It repeated itself like never before; “and ransom captive Israel.”

How many times, without thought, have I sung those words before?! Clearly, in light of the current deathly carnage, horrendous captivity and unspeakable suffering of the Holy Land on the World Stage, these lyrics even more cry out to us of western mind for much better comprehension; we who’s principled policy is to never, ever, pay ransom to kidnappers! After setting all politics aside, do I myself, actually grasp the significance of what it means to those of eastern mind? “Chazor, chazor Immanu-El Ufde asirei Israel.”

Ransom runs deep in the soul of the Jewish community and individual. Historically, over thousands of years of being taken captive, ravaged, then exiled to a foreign land to exist or, possibly exterminated during Assyrian Captivity (772 BC), Babylonian Captivity (597 BC), and Roman Captivity (63 AD) has this been implanted into the cultural core. Ransom is referenced in the Hebrew [OT] texts of Exodus, Leviticus, Psalms, Proverbs, and Isaiah. So highly valued was it to ransom a Jewish captive, that rabbis considered this mitzvah of greater importance than feeding or clothing the poor! Ransom is priority #1.Simchu, simchu, Emmanuel Yavo lachem b’nei Yisrael!”

Redemption was the deliverance for the captives by payment of the negotiated ransom price, or deliverance by power to free the captives. Put more clearly, “Redemption refers to freeing somebody from what holds them captive. Ransom refers to the price paid.” Redemption and Redeemer are words far more frequent in the Greek [NT] texts. This is especially so in reference to the finished work of one, himself a Jew, setting the captive, those bound to sin and death, free – Jesus Christ. Yeshua Hamashiach

The voice of a captured soul cries out from the darkness… A person? A people? A nation? Could that voice be your own soul deep within? The only hope I have right now, is that Jesus Himself became The ransom that was paid for me and for you. Our Redeemer came to us and is coming again. “Rejoice, Rejoice, Immanuel has come to thee…O Israel.”

My mind still gets transfixed, my soul still enraptured, as this Christmas Lament again comes near, for once captive but now freed, I hear… “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.” Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel.”

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; ~ Isaiah 61:1 ESV