7. O Emmanuel


O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver,
the hope of the nations and their Saviour:
Come and save us, O Lord our God.

Today we reach the culmination of the ‘O’ Antiphons with O Emmanuel. It is no accident that what is many people’s favourite antiphon (or verse of the carol!) comes last. It is the summary of the Incarnation- the name Emmanuel means God with us.

For such a significant term throughout the Church’s history it is surprising that it only occurs three times in Scripture.

The first two references are from Isaiah. Israel, under threat of invasion, receives a message from God through his prophet Isaiah. A young woman will bear a child and before that child is old enough to know the difference between right and wrong the threat of invasion will disappear.

Isaiah is speaking about event in his context; a real and imminent invasion and God’s protection of Israel. But, as he later prophesise, Israel are invaded by Assyria. He used this phrase, Emmanuel, to convey how God is with his people in their vulnerability of invasion, he is with them as he delivers them.

When the writer of Matthew’s Gospel uses this name he sees Isaiah’s prophecies as not merely relating to Israel’s imminent situation but as foretelling the birth of the Messiah, God’s holy presence among his people in the person of Jesus.

Although the name ‘Emmanuel’ is only mentioned three times, the theme of ‘God with us’ is prevalent throughout Scripture.

Abimelech tells Abraham, ‘God is with you in all that you do’ (Gen 21:22

In Deuteronomy it says, ‘Have no dread of them, for the Lord your God, who is present with you, is a great and awesome God.’ (Deut 7:21)

Nathan said to David, “Do all that you have in mind, for God is with you.” (1 Chron 17:2)

In Zephaniah it says, ‘The Lord, your God, is in your midst’ (Zeph 3:17)

But this Antiphon, and indeed the writer of Matthew’s gospel, is not just referring to God being with us in times of trial or difficulty. It is referring to God taking flesh to come and mingle among us.

I find great reassurance that when I pray, God knows my pain and sorrow, relief and joy. God doesn’t just know these emotions in a theoretical sense but because of Jesus’ lived experience.

Jesus knows what it is to be love and be betrayed, to offer friendship and be shunned. He knows what it is to struggle to breathe your last breath, to know that death is imminent. ‘O Emmanuel’ represents so much more than the means by which we are saved. It also points to our lord, our king, taking on a frail body so that our frail bodies can one day be made whole.

You may have wondered why I have included the Latin for these titles in each blog post. It is because, today, on the last day of these great antiphons we can read these titles for Jesus backwards.

Radix Jesse
Clavis David
Rex Gentium

Ero Cras which means, ‘Tomorrow I come

So today, as Christmas is imminent, we pray with the expectation that Jesus will come tomorrow to save us and restore our brokenness.

O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver,
the hope of the nations and their Saviour:
Come and save us, O Lord our God.

*** The majority of my reading around these Antiphons has been from William Marshall’s book,  O Come Emmanuel: Devotional Study of the Advent Antiphons. It’s been an invaluable resource. If you’d like to read more about the root and symbolism behind these great prayers do hunt for a copy.***

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