Thursday 17th December – O Come O Come Emmanuel
In looking forward to Jesus’ coming again we also look back to the ancient prophecies of His coming. Monastic communities would sing different prophecies of Jesus’ coming each day between now and Christmas eve. These have been made popular in today’s haunting Advent carol.
Isaiah 7:4; 11:10; 22:22
And say to him, Take heed, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint because of these two smouldering stumps of firebrands, because of the fierce anger of Rezin and Aram and the son of Remaliah…
On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious…
I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and no one shall shut; he shall shut, and no one shall open.
But for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.
O Come O Come Emmanuel
18th Century based on the ancient Advent Antiphons
You can hear Enya’s striking version here
O come, O come, Immanuel,
and ransom captive Israel
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Immanuel
shall come to you, O Israel.
2 O come, O Wisdom from on high,
who ordered all things mightily;
to us the path of knowledge show
and teach us in its ways to go.
3 O come, O come, great Lord of might,
who to your tribes on Sinai’s height
in ancient times did give the law
in cloud and majesty and awe.
4 O come, O Branch of Jesse’s stem,
unto your own and rescue them!
From depths of hell your people save,
and give them victory o’er the grave.
5 O come, O Key of David, come
and open wide our heavenly home.
Make safe for us the heavenward road
and bar the way to death’s abode.
6 O come, O Bright and Morning Star,
and bring us comfort from afar!
Dispel the shadows of the night
and turn our darkness into light.
7 O come, O King of nations, bind
in one the hearts of all mankind.
Bid all our sad divisions cease
and be yourself our King of Peace.
Advent is full of hope and longing mixed with preparation and penitence. In some ways, it mirrors Lent, as we strive to ready ourselves, as disciples, for the coming of God amongst us. This necessarily involves a consciousness of how far we still have to go on our discipleship journeys. The hope and the longing are, therefore, both for what the world can be and for what each of us can be.
The first part of the book of Isaiah was written in the lead up to the fall of Jerusalem and the subsequent exile of many of its people. It, too, is an intriguing mixture of judgement, hope and longing for ‘the day when [God will] act’ (Malachi 4.3). It’s no wonder, therefore, that the traditional Vespers’ liturgy for the period from 17th to 23rd December incorporates the seven ‘Os’. These are seven antiphons addressed to seven names for Christ, which have been mined from the prophecies of Isaiah, to express our longing and our hopes.
Nor is it surprising that these have been amalgamated into the great advent hymn ‘O come, O come, Immanuel. This voices our hopes and longings for God to come amongst us and for the day of the Lord to come. We who sing it, know that God has already come amongst us, is with us now day by day, and yet, as we wait to celebrate Christ’s birth once again, we still long for the day of the Lord. For God’s kingdom has yet to come in all its fulness.
The depth of our longing is no less great than that of our ancestors. Our hope is no less great. But we have learned that God works with us and through us. We are called not simply to long or to hope but also to strive for God’s kingdom to come here and now in all its glory.
God with us,
May we catch the vision of your kingdom once again this Advent.
May we catch too the zeal and the love that led you to come amongst us
That we may be your instruments in striving for fulness of life for each of us and for all of us
Thanks be to God.