O Emmanuel - an Advent reflection

A reflection on O Emmanuel … God with us

This is the last of our Advent reflections. We have been thinking about Christ as the source of Divine Wisdom; as our Lord; as our strong root; as our key to salvation; as the light of our lives and as our King.  Now we come to the last appellation which draws all together in the wonderful word Emmanuel, which means God with us.

Isaiah 7:14 “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.” (NOTE: Immanuel and Emmanuel are interchangeable).

Emmanuel - God with us…let us explore together what this  wonderful promise means.

In Old Testament times there was a strong sense that God dwelt in The Temple, in the Holy of Holies. King David had decided to build God his first Temple home, but was prevented when God spoke to him via Nathan the prophet and said “I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be a prince of my people Israel and I have been with you wherever you went…” (2 Samuel 7:8-9). So David learned that God was indeed with him all the time, unconfined to a particular home. We may feel especially close to God in our church buildings but God has promised to be with us everywhere.

There is an idea for some that God is a large, remote, rather terrifying being …. No. God came to us as a baby, God incarnate. God-made-man, Jesus Christ, whose birthday we celebrate at Christmas. Jesus showed us in his teaching the nature of God; His love, His mercy, His forgiveness. Jesus showed anger, sorrow, impatience as well; he experienced our human nature and this helps us to feel his nearness to us.

Bernard of Clairvaux has a rather nice metaphor for the incarnation. He imagines that God sent to earth a purse full of his mercy… a small purse, but very full, that opened at the time of the crucifixion and resurrection of His Son to pour forth the price of our redemption. We have been forgiven, loved and redeemed, God is with us. To feel without God would indeed be to feel caste into utter darkness.  

Although the Incarnate God could not remain physically with us, when He was nearing His passion he made His disciples  two promises:

John 14:26 “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you”….and

Matthew 28:20 “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

In this way God is with us even though the physical presence of God-made-man has departed … taken to the Father so that we too may in due time follow and be taken up to live with the Father.

I wonder if anyone asks why we are crying “Come, Lord Jesus” as we know He is with us always. Although  we can feel that this cry brings Him close right now, we need to remember that Advent is not just a season in which we recall and celebrate the past, the Incarnation. We also look to the future and remember that we believe Christ will come again in glory to judge both the living and the dead. Jesus said “Then the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light. The stars will fall from heaven and the powers of heaven will be shaken. Then the Son of Man will appear in heaven  and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” Matthew 24:29-30

When will this be? Some thought, and others still think, it may be soon and that the actual date can be determined. Not so. We are not given to know the “times or seasons”; it will be at the right time, the appropriate time (Kairos). We can however make sure we are prepared, with our lamps lit, living as people who believe in Jesus as our Saviour as we await His coming in glory to judge both the living and the dead.

Maranatha. Come Lord Jesus!

This poem by Malcolm Guite expands this wish most beautifully

O Emmanuel

O come, O come, and be our God-with-us
O long-sought With-ness for a world without,
O secret seed , O hidden spring of light,
Come to us Wisdom, come unspoken Name
Come Root, and Key and King and holy Flame,
O quickened little wick so tightly curled,
Be folded with us into time and place,
Unfold for us the mystery of Grace
And make a womb of all this wounded world.
O heart of heaven beating in the earth,
O tiny hope within our hopelessness
Come to be born, to bear us to our birth,
To touch a dying world with new-made hands
And make these rags of time our swaddling bands.

© Malcolm Guite, from the Great O Antiphons in Sounding the Seasons, Canterbury Press 2012 www.malcolmguite.com Used by permission.


Please join now in saying The Magnificat, with the seventh great antiphon 

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

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour;
he has looked with favour on his lowly servant.

From this day all generations will call me blessed
the almighty has done great things for me
and holy is his name.

He has mercy on those who fear him
from generation to generation.

He has shown strength with his arm
and scattered the proud in their conceit,

Casting down the mighty from their thrones
and lifting up the lowly.

He has filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away empty.

He has come to the aid of his servant Israel
to remember his promise of mercy.

The promise made to our ancestors
To Abraham and his children for ever.

Glory to the Father and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning is now
and shall be for ever. Amen.

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

From Common Worship © The Archbishops Council of the Church of England 2000-2006

The Bible quotations are from The New Revised Standard Version Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995 Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved

An appendix. You may have heard of the Advent acrostic .. here it is
ERO CRAS... I shall come tomorrow