O Come Emmanuel

In the final days of Advent, the church’s daily evening prayer includes a short verse, or antiphon, that highlights one of the scriptural names for the messiah.  Each day’s text begins with “O” followed the designated title, traditionally sung in Latin.  Today is the last in a series about these antiphons. More background information on the O Antiphons is found below each day’s post.

Antiphon of the Day: O Emmanuel, king and lawgiver, desire of the nations, Savior of all people:  Come and set us free, Lord our God.

Considering the sweep of images in the previous O Antiphons, today’s culmination is quite humble, a baby named Emmanuel.  Expectations for a messiah originated with prophecies to David, and centuries later, Isaiah tells King Ahaz of the southern kingdom of Judah that God will provide this sign of God’s fidelity:  “the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.”  This sign is meant to reassure the king that God will protect him in battle. Today, many centuries later in a different time and culture, this text still inspires hope.  The unlikely and impossible can happen. A virgin gives birth. God is with us. God is born over and over again through men, women and children in a myriad of ways when we say “yes” to God’s call.
Photo by oneselfsacrifice via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

PrayerO Emmanuel, emerge in our hearts so that we bring your love to the world.

About the O Antiphons
Although the exact origin of the O Antiphons is unknown, they seem to have been in use for more than 1,000 years. Most of us are more familiar with singing all these names for Jesus in the complete verses of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” The church’s daily prayer, the Liturgy of the Hours or Divine Office, has mostly been observed by religious communities, especially today in monasteries.  It’s the church’s way of marking the holiness of each part of the day.  Historically, as many as eight “hours” were celebrated during a 24-hour period, but Vatican II emphasized morning and evening prayer for all, not just vowed religious.  The format includes psalms, antiphons, scripture readings, and specific prayers like the Our Father and Magnificat.  At vespers from Dec. 17-23, in early evening, the O Antiphon is recited or sung before the Magnificat.

Perhaps because I love words and enjoy discovering their meanings, the O Antiphons have fascinated me for years though I’ve never prayed them in a communal setting.  I first spent time reading the biblical texts from which the O Antiphons are drawn two years ago for this blog and found it very illuminating.  Taken together they present a mosaic of names for God, disparate pieces joined together creating a beautiful whole that is even richer than the individual antiphons suggest.  My studies of Judaism since I originally undertook this project prompt me to acknowledge that the identification of Hebrew texts with Jesus in no way exhausts their meaning or diminishes their significance for the Jewish faith.
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One Response to O Come Emmanuel

  1. Pingback: The right name for the baby in the stable « just telling it as it is

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