In this post, Thomas Smith reflects upon the O Antiphon “O Emmanuel” from the December 23 daily Mass. You can find his other reflections on the O Anthiphons leading up to Christmas here.
(This can also be sung to the melody “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”)
O come, o come Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Refrain: Rejoice, Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!
In one of the most oft-quoted passages from Isaiah, the prophet records God’s sign to doubting King Ahaz that “a virgin shall conceive and bear a son and shall name him Emmanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). While doubtless there was some contemporary fulfillment for Ahaz, the FULL-fillment would only come in Christ. As Pope Benedict wrote in his book Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, this prophecy is a “word in waiting.” The Gospel of Matthew, in fact, appeals to Isaiah to show that the Nativity is what Israel had been waiting for through the centuries. In fact, this promise frames the Gospel of Matthew. As with the other titles, Emmanuel is not so much a proper name as a message. Emmanuel means “God is with us.” At the beginning of the Gospel, Isaiah’s promise is invoked in the Infancy Narratives (Matthew 1:23) and the Gospel closes with the Ascension where Christ promises “lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
As we come to the end of the seven O Antiphons, there is one final hidden message. Fr. William Saunders points out that the antiphons are ordered with a definite purpose. When you reverse the order of the Latin titles (Emmanuel, Rex, Oriens, Clavis, Radix, Adonai, Sapientia) the first letter of each one spells the phrase ero cras which translated is, “Tomorrow, I will come.” And in fact, he does, a gift we celebrate at Midnight Mass. St. Peter Eymard says that we actually celebrate three births of Jesus. His birth in Bethlehem, his birth on our altars in the form of the Eucharist, and his birth in our hearts. May we welcome him faithfully and fruitfully in all three ways.
Part of being a follower of Jesus is to continue to make this message known. In word and deed we reveal that God is still very present in the world. It is God’s desire that we become a kind of new incarnation of his Son Jesus to all that we meet. Pope Francis has been such an outstanding model of this. Those I have spoken to who have met him face to face, remark that they feel God’s presence and love so tangibly. He has revealed that Evangelization is, in fact, Emmanuel-ization. ￼￼Look for some very tangible ways you can be “God with us” in the ordinary events of the day. Maybe let two or three people in line ahead of you at the store, write a card to that person you have been meaning to thank, be a Secret Santa to a neighbor or widow/ widower in the parish, create a little blessing bag of toiletries and warm gloves/hat for the next homeless person you encounter.
What a joy, what a consolation to know that Christ has never left us, that God’s promises are sure. As you take a moment for contemplation, thank the Lord that before you even began to pray, he was present and waiting. ￼