One of the traditional hymns employed throughout the Advent season is the haunting refrain:
O Come, O Come Emmanuel
and ransom captive Israel,
That longs in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.
This has been a season of anticipation and expectation, but for what? The answer comes in numerous ways: Deliverance, being set free, release of the captive, proclaiming a year of liberty.
It is remarkable how the idea of freedom so permeates the season. In a grand, eschatological sense, the freedom for which the heart of man most deeply longs is freedom from the bondage of sin and death. Political, economic, and personal freedom are critical, but the fundamental freedom is salvation. And it is this confrontation with the mystery of human redemption that may appear at first like a contradiction: How can it be said that sin, which must be freely chosen, results in bondage?
The answer is that the freedom of which the Scriptures speak is not the freedom to do what we want, but the liberty to choose what we ought.
No power on earth, or even in Heaven, can force the conscience of man to choose what St. Paul calls "the freedom of the children of God." Even God Himself permits us to choose sin; so great is his commitment to our dignity that He will never force our free will. Yet He stands ready, at any moment, to show us the meaning of true liberty. And when we encounter that freedom, we will understand more fully than ever the words of Jesus, "If the Son will make you free you shall be free indeed," as well as the final refrain of the ancient hymn:
Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel,
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
On behalf of the entire Acton Institute family, we wish you a merry Christmas and a safe holiday season.
A slightly longer version of this message was originally published in 2001.