O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster,
exspectatio Gentium, et Salvator earum:
veni ad salvandum nos, Domine, Deus noster.
O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver,
the hope of the nations and their Savior:
Come and save us, O Lord our God.
O Antiphon, December 23
Reflection – And so we come to the final O Antiphon, the one that sums up the rest of them and indeed sums up the whole of our Christian hope and longing.
It’s kind of the point of the whole exercise, isn’t it, this ‘emmanuel’ business? Im-anu-el—with us God—this is in a sense the whole of our Christian faith. God is with us, and this is what makes all the difference between light and darkness, joy and sorrow, good and evil, heaven and hell.
It does, really, sum up all our Christian faith. God is with us in the experience of human weakness and vulnerability—we see the little baby shivering in the manger. God is with us in the experience of danger and terrible fear—we see the family fleeing into Egypt from an evil ruler. God is with us in the normal human experiences of growth and family and ordinary life—we see the child, the youth, the man living in the village of Nazareth. God is with us in the call to love and serve and labor for the good of others—we see the man walking the land of Palestine, pouring himself in an offering of love. And
God is with us in pain and death and even in our sin—the sinless one bearing the sins of the world, the man dying on the cross for us.
God is with us—the whole entirety of human life has been embraced by the Triune God in Jesus Christ, and continues to be embraced by Him in the gift of the Holy Spirit in the Church.
And yet—we know that we have to take this on faith, quite a bit. And this act of faith can be hard, to say the least. And these O Antiphons always recognize this. God is with us, and yet we cry out for Emmanuel to come and save us. God is our king and our lawgiver—the Law of the Gospel is the very presence of Jesus Christ within us conforming our lives to His by the gift of the Spirit—and yet we still long in expectation for Him.
It is the great paradox of the Gospel that we live with both these realities ongoing. Jesus is really here, and we cry out for Him to come. Jesus is saving us, and we cry out for him to save us yet. ‘Which is it?’ I remember someone challenging one of our Madonna House members once. Is God with us or not?
To which the only answer is ‘yes, both’. He is with us, and we long for Him to be with us in fullness. He is with us in sign and sacrament and the hidden veiled dark knowledge of faith which wraps us in a great mystery continually. We long for Him to be with us so that all flesh can see and every heart know that God is God and reigns in heaven and on earth.
God became man so that we could see Him and be saved, St. Hippolytus tells us in the Office of Readings today. So we would like Him to come and be seen again, not even so much for our own sakes (I’m OK with sign and sacrament and dark knowledge of faith, personally, at least for the next 40-50 years or so!), but for the sake of those who just cannot seem to find their way to faith.
If He could just be seen a little bit more clearer, just make Himself a little more obvious—this is our great prayer and longing. The world is wrapped in darkness and dread, in much suffering in this year 2013, and in every year man has set his foot to trod the earth. We long for God to come and be with us, and be with us further, and be with us more clearly, so that the nations may take hope and be saved, so that lives may be conformed more to the Law of Christ which is the Law of Love.
We long for all men and women to truly celebrate Christmas, in other words. Not the tinsel and glitter, conspicuous consumption, reindeer and elves Christmas, although all that has its good and proper place. But… Christmas. God with us. The baby. The hope. The salvation. That Christmas. And that is my prayer for all of you reading this, as we draw very near to that great and glorious day.