As the poignant cadences of O Emmanuel die away in the darkness, we know we have reached the culmination of Advent. In that moment, we call on God to be with us as King and Law-giver, Desired of the Nations and our Salvation; the prayer we make is simple: save us! In effect, we have been brought to the point where we know our need of God, and the greater the need the starker the expression.
Sometimes we want a great many other things as well as God. We want success, security, someone to love and be loved by — all good things in themselves. The difficulty starts when we want these things more than God or rather, we want them in a way that isn’t quite as God intended. When we want success so that we can be comfortable and maybe show others how well we’ve done in life; security so that we don’t have to risk anything or trust God in any real sense; someone to love and be loved by for rather selfish ends (which, of course, is not truly love, but we often mistake possessiveness for love). Sooner or later, however, we shall have to face up to the question: do we want God in our lives or not; do we want to be saved or not.
We began the sequence of O antiphons by asking God for the gift of wisdom; we complete it by asking for God in himself, as he is. That reflects the rhythm of all prayer. We usually begin by asking for this gift or that. Only gradually do we come to see that there is only one gift to be asked for, and that it must be given in the way that God chooses. When he gives himself to us this Christmas, as a baby born in a troubled part of a great empire, member of a people despised by many, let us remember that that is how God willed to come among us and offer us salvation. Let us pray that our hearts and minds may open to embrace so great a gift.