John Mason Neale was born on Jan. 24, 1818. He trained to be an Anglican priest at Trinity College in Cambridge. By most accounts, he was brilliant; a man who could write and speak in more than 20 languages. But he was also feared. In religious circles in the United Kingdom, many feared his intelligence and his insights. He was considered too evangelical, too progressive, and too much a free thinker. Many were afraid he might possibly gain too great an influence.
Instead of getting a parish in London, the church sent him to the Madiera Islands off the northwest coast of Africa. In a sense, he was exiled to this far away place in hopes that he and his ideas would never find root in England. Even in his isolation from mainstream Christianity, he could not keep his dreams submerged. He established the Sisterhood of St. Margaret, from which he began an orphanage, a school for girls, and a house of refuge for prostitutes. Often frail and sickly, Neale continued to steward his unique gifts and passion despite serving with physical limitations and in an obscure place.
Driven by his love for the Scriptures, he not only read the Bible, but he would also read any Scripture-based writing he could get his hands on. He came across an obscure Latin chant called “Psalteroium Canionum Catholicarum.” Some scholars estimate that a monk first compiled these words sometime prior to the 9th century. The text inspired Neale and he decided to translate it into English. The words reverberate with promises concerning the Messiah from Isaiah 7:14 and Matthew 1:23.
Neale, intentionally pushed into obscurity by his assignment, reintroduced the world to Emmanuel, God with us, and Israel as a representative of God’s passionate desire to bring redemption and restoration to all. He empathized with Israel’s “captive, lonely exile.” In the third verse of probably the oldest and still sung Christmas carol, we read:
“O come, O Dayspring, come and cheer,
Our spirits by thine advent here;
And drive away the shades of night,
And pierce the clouds and bring us light.”
Chorus: “Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”
Now you know the rest of the story. A minister, destined by men for obscurity, rose out of the darkness to share his gift of writing with the world. Don’t ever allow your mind to wonder concerning the purposes and plans God has for you. No man, no system, no power, no demon and no scheme can ever hold back what the Lord has commanded concerning you.
“Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6 NIV).
Come, Emmanuel, come…
By: Glenn Burris Jr., interim resident