God With Us: O Emmanuel 2015

There are times when it seems God is not with us. We look at what is happening in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and shake our heads in disbelief. The haunting image of dead bodies washed ashore in Italy or Greece or the blood spilled over the streets of Paris makes us want to cry out, ‘Where is God?’ We read report after report of murder, violence, the abuse of children, corruption in high places and wonder, ‘How can this be?’ Then we experience some unexpected kindness or are caught unawares by a glimpse of beauty and are not so sure. Perhaps there is a god after all, but is he the God of Christian revelation? Is he a god near at hand or a god far off? Today’s O antiphon has an answer to that question, but it also tries to go further and say something about the way in which we respond:

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 Saviour, come and save us, Lord our God.

Yes, God is with us; God is our King; God is our law-giver; he is the One the gentiles long for, perhaps without realising it; he is their Saviour, although not always acknowledged as such. Our heads assent to these statements. But then the antiphon turns them all into heart-wrenching personal prayer: come and save us, Lord our God. Our God is not a god far off, more or less indifferent to our fate. He is involved, he cares. And our need is such that all the grandiloquent titles in the world must give way to that urgent prayer. We do not pray in abstractions; we do not pray for others only, in some misguided attempt to be super-altruistic; we pray for ourselves, humbly, passionately, knowing that God will hear us. On Christmas morning we shall receive God’s answer to our prayer when he comes among us as the Word made flesh, Emmanuel, God with us.

Note: The text and music of today’s antiphon may be found here: http://bit.ly/1roZnkA