O Emmanuel: God with us

O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster, exspectatio gentium, et Salvator earum: veni ad salvandum nos Domine Deus noster.
O Emmanuel, our King and Law-giver, desired of the nations and their salvation, come and save us, Lord our God.

Today’s Mass readings, Malachi 3. 1-4, 23-24 and Luke 1. 57-66, taken together with Isaiah 7.14, provide more than enough to think about as we listen to the antiphon:


We are very close to the birth we are waiting for. The prophecy of Malachi is fulfilled in the coming of John the Baptist, and the question with which the gospel ends is one we must ask not just of John’s birth but of Jesus’ also: ‘What will this child turn out to be?’ Sometimes people assume that ‘good’ Christians have no doubts, never ask questions, never experience a sense of bewilderment in the face of cruelty or disaster. That is demonstrably untrue. To be a Christian is surely to live with uncertainty, relying on the gift of faith to bridge the gap between our understanding and our questioning. Tonight’s antiphon reminds us that the God we seek is not a God afar off, but God-with-us, one who has shared our humanity and calls us to share in his divinity.

O Emmanuel expresses the theology of this in a few, meaning-rich phrases. Notice that expectatio gentium, although translated as ‘Desired of the nations’, really has more the sense of ‘hope’ or even more literally, ‘expectation’. The antiphon takes up and develops all the themes of the previous six. Christ is welcomed as God-with-us, King of David’s line, the true Law-giver, one who is the fulfilment of every human (= gentile) hope and longing, whose gift of salvation is open to all. The petition with which the antiphon ends is absolutely clear about the divine nature and mission of the Messiah: ‘come and save us, Lord our God.’

There in a nutshell is what Christmas is about. In his compassion and love, God wills to take our human flesh and blood and redeem us through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord. Our salvation is very near. It began with Mary’s generous-hearted consent to be the Mother of God. It will take physical shape with the birth of Jesus on Christmas night. It will be completed only when all are one with Him in the Kingdom. Truly, this is ‘a mystery hidden from long ages, a secret into which even angels long to look!


8 thoughts on “O Emmanuel: God with us”

  1. A hazelnutshell! I am keeping a hazelnut in my pocket; it is there for me to find to remind me what Christmas is all about when I get “Martha-ed” by many things

  2. And in a much simpler way this takes me to one of my favourite carols with a wonderful velvet, dark tune, ‘O Come, O Come Immanuel”.

    And the nutshell is surely a hazel taken from the shrine of Julian here in Norfolk.

    • Yes, a “Julian of Norwich” nutshell. I haven’t studied her writings, but a mixture of “all manner of things will be well” and Romans 8:28 has seen me through many a storm, and usually calmed the magnitude of the waves to tea-cup-size. Also a chorus “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in His heavenly face, And the things of this earth will seem strangely dim, In the light of his glory and grace”. It has a tune which I personally detest, but I still hum it when the going gets tough.

  3. Thanks for the beautiful reflections throughout the Advent season.
    I would have liked to have made more comments but I have found it hard enough just to keep up with writing my own blog these days.
    The rheumatoid arthritis has been active these last few weeks and energy levels have dropped.
    Wishing you all Blessings for Christmas and to your dog a big juicy bone (I hope he gets something special !)

  4. Thank you for this wonderful series of reflections too ; for all your reflections, throughout the year, with their unfailing help to awareness of the ways that God IS with is — a daily wake-up call.

  5. May I join Eric and Phil in thanks.

    Phil, I know all too well from personal experience how RA bites into one’s life. Perhaps we could ask readers to remember in their prayers this Christmas all those affected by arthritis and all those wonderful people who make our lives easier.

    I’ve just looked at your blog and am amazed at it richness. I look forward to reading you in 2012.

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