"O Come, O Come Immanuel" is a classic Christmas carol about ransom, or redemption. While there is a lot of biblical language (Dayspring and Rod of Jesse), the dilemma is timeless: Without Christ, we are captives to sin, we live under the shadow of death and the grave, we are the lonely exiles. We are in need of someone who will save us.
In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for redemption is gaal. It can mean a number of things:
- being freed from a bond
- buying back something that was lost or sold. (Think today of extreme debt – college loans, money owed to a hospital or to the IRS).
- the paying of a ransom to save someone from slavery or captivity. We hear a lot today about the international slave trade – Christian Solidarity International is redeeming slaves for $50 to $100 in the Sudan right now. 
In the Old Testament, Goel is the term for the person who was the "redeemer." God is called Israel's goel numerous times (Deuteronomy 9:26 2 Samuel 7:23 1 Chronicles 17:21 Isaiah 52:3). He redeemed them from national misfortune (Isaiah 52:9; Isaiah 63:9) plague (Psalm 78:35, 52) disaster, (Genesis 48:16 Numbers 25:4, 9), and captivity (Egypt and Babylon). Isaiah wrote how those mourning in exile and darkness would one day see the arrival of redeemer to save them from all these things:
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined. You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as men rejoice when they divide the spoil. For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David, and over his kingdom to establish it, and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and for evermore.” (Isaiah 9:2-8)
Isaiah adds later,
“ I am the Lord. Beside Me, there is no savior. There is no other redeemer. Thus says the Lord, your redeemer, the Holy One of Israel. I am He.” (Isaiah 43:11)
All the practical, physical ways that Israel’s God redeemed them was simply a foreshadowing or representation of the ultimate salvation that God was promising: redemption from sin or the results of sin (Psalm 130:8). The penalty of sin was death (as we see in the sacrificial system in the Old Testament). Yet God steps in as a Redeemer here as well. Isaiah (once again) wrote:
“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions (rebellion), he was bruised for our iniquities (sin); upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity (guilt) of us all.” (Isaiah 53:4–6)
In Jesus, the long-awaited redemption from sin arrived. We see this referenced again and again in the New Testament:
- Matthew 1:21 "And [Mary] will bring forth a son, and you shall call his name Jesus: for he will save his people from their sins."
- Acts 10:43 "To him [Jesus] all the prophets witness that, through his name, whoever believes in him will receive remission of sins."
- Hebrews 9:11-12 "…not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us."
- Ephesians 1:7 "In him [Jesus] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his [God's] grace…"
- Colossians 1:14 "In whom [Jesus] We have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins…"
- Titus 2:14 “He gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to cleanse for Himself a people for His own possession, eager to do good works.”
- Romans 3:24: “For all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God sent to be an atoning sacrifice, through faith in His blood…”
Jesus arrived to redeem people from the alienation brought about by sin, and he did so through his death and resurrection (Romans 4:25 ; 2 Corinthians 5:18-19 ). The darkness and gloom over the land we sang about in “O Come Immanuel” was not primarily because life was hard. It was primarily because sin was wreaking havoc in the souls of those in the land. So God – through Christ – brought a great light. The joy and rejoicing and healing and life happen because Christ took the initiative to offer himself as a ransom on behalf of those enslaved to sin and death. So what does this redemption look like? How are our lives made beautiful?
We are redeemed from sin, into life in Christ, with God’s people, for the glory of God.
Redeemed from sin. Once we have given ourselves to sin, we immediately incur a debt we cannot satisfy. There are small ways in life where we can “save ourselves” – I paid off my college debt, for example. If I fail to do what I told my wife I would do to help clean up on Saturday morning, there’s always Saturday afternoon J But the daunting nature of SIN is that we incur a debt that we cannot pay – “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23) In order to pay our own ransom, we would have to die. We need a redeemer, someone who will pay the price and ransom us, and that someone is Jesus Christ. We are delivered from ‘the law of sin and death’ by his life, death and resurrection. “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ.” (Romans 6:23)
Redeemed from sin, into life with Christ. This is the positive movement of a soul away from sin and toward peace and reconciliation with God. Christ didn’t just cancel our debt; He brought us into new life.
“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but made alive by the Spirit." (I Peter 3:18)
" God demonstrates his own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by his life." (Romans 5:6-10)
When we talk about the hope and peace of advent, this is what we are talking about. Peace on earth – goodwill toward those on whom His favor rests.” (Luke 2:14) “He is our peace.” Why? “You who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” (Ephesians 2:13)
Redeemed from sin, into life with Christ, with God’s people. God does not redeem us into isolation. He intended to create a community of people would live in covenant community of commitment, obligation, and responsibilities with God and each other. When that happens, Christians increasingly demonstrate what it genuinely means to be God’s people. This is what Jesus meant when he said he would build his “church” not as a building, but as a community of people from all nations (Matthew 16:18; 28:19). This involves truth, repentance, forgiveness, grace, love, justice, mercy and holiness.
Christopher Wright has noted, “The people of God in both testaments are called to be a light to the nations. But there can be no light to the nations that is not shining already in transformed lives of a holy people.” It’s not just about you, or just about me, or just about any one individual. We are redeemed – and now I am talking about every way – to become ambassadors of Christ’s redemption. (Maybe “pay it forward” is the phrase is the phrase I am looking for?)
Redeemed from sin, into life with Christ, with God’s people, for the glory of God.
“My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit.” (John 15:8)
“For all things are for your sakes, so that the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:15)
“What if God, willing to show His wrath, and to make His power known, endured with much patience those who are destined for destruction: and that He might make known the riches of His glory on those to whom he shows mercy, who were prepared in advance for glory.” (Romans 9:22-23)
Ultimately, we aren’t redeemed for our glory (though we have been prepared for it). We aren’t redeemed to build the church (though that’s part of it). We are redeemed so that the Redeemer is glorified. I like how David Vandrunen summarized this idea:
“Despair would seem to be the only logical response if all we knew about ourselves was our sinfulness and consequent condemnation before God’s judgment. But humility grounded in the gospel enables us to understand that we do have true worth and that we are, in fact, called to glory. It is not a worth that derives from our own efforts and not a glory we can achieve by our own strength. Rather, the gospel reveals our worth as those renewed in the image of God through Christ, empowers us to do works that are truly good and honorable, and gives us hope of a coming glory bestowed by Christ at his second coming….
God glorified himself in all his works, but is especially pleased to glorify himself through the glorification of his saints in Christ – whose glorification thus redounds back to the glory of God… May we fear and glorify him especially for doing precisely what it took, at such great cost to himself, to redeem lowly sinners and make us glorified citizens of a kingdom that can never be shaken.” (God’s Glory Alone: The Majestic Heart of Christian Faith And Life)
God is not glorified in my life because I’m awesome. Those of you who know me well can vouch for this. God’s not glorified in any of our lives because we are awesome. God’s glorified in our lives because of His desire and ability to redeem even me – even you - in spite of the cost, and because He has taken our broken lives and patiently been patching them back together.
 “Redeeming Sudan’s Slaves,” http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/1999/august9/9t9029.html?start=2