Thinking Anglicans

O Emmanuel

The last Evening Prayer of Advent is the context for this final ‘O’ Antiphon, O Emmanuel. When Evening Prayer comes round again, tomorrow, he will come. And that is the hidden message in these seven antiphons. Working backwards from today we have seven titles addressed to the coming baby: Emmanuel, Rex Gentium, Oriens, Clavis David, Radix Jesse, Adonaï, and Sapientia. Taking the initial letter of each of these invocations yields the words ‘ero cras’, a couple of Latin words that mean ‘Tomorrow, I will come’.

And the identity of who it is that is coming is to be found in all those titles: the divine Word or Wisdom; the LORD, the ‘I AM’; a shoot sprung from the family tree of Jesse; the successor of David; a Light shining in the darkness; the true ruler of the world. And Emmanuel.

Emmanuel, or God-with-us, was a name used by Isaiah when he tells King Ahaz that the royal house of David will flourish despite the great danger that it faced from Damascus and Samaria. Isaiah foretells that before a child who is still in the womb is able to choose between right and wrong, the kings of Damascus and Samaria will fall, and the threat to Jerusalem will fall with it. Isaiah gives this unborn child the name ‘Immanuel’, a sign of hope in the future and trust in the divine will.

And Matthew, in his proclamation of the good news about Jesus, takes this message out of Isaiah and makes the parallel with Jesus’s birth, seeing it too as a sign of hope and trust in God, and of liberation from oppression and tyranny.

To us, the name Immanuel signifies even more. It tells us of the immanence of God: El in Hebrew, so we can make a pun and say that Immanu-el means the immanence of El — that God, the creator of the universe, lives among us, lives a human life, a humble human life, born to an ordinary family, in a far-off colonial outpost. God is not some remote cosmic being, and God is not some fickle pleasure-seeking divinity who masquerades in human form on occasion. No, this is a God who puts off the divine attributes to live within the limits of a human life and a human death. Here the human and the divine mingle in a way that poetry and theology are better at describing than science. And in a day or so’s time we shall be, as it were, witnesses to this mingling, this incarnation, as we celebrate the birth of that baby and ponder its meaning in our hearts.

O come, O come Emmanuel!

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Richard Ashby
Richard Ashby
11 years ago

Thank you, Simon

david Wilson
david Wilson
11 years ago

Yes thank you – a very appropriate word for the day.

Laurence Roberts
Laurence Roberts
11 years ago

Beautiful. Many thanks.

I loved the way it spells I will come tomorrow / Mi Ddof yfory

Father Ron Smith
11 years ago

After another night of significant Quake after-shocks here in Christchurch, New Zealand, we are glad to be alive! Just another reason to thank the God of Love, who came into this world as an infant, humbly; and faithful to God’s Word of hope and encouragement to all who look to Him for life.

Love, Joy and Peace to ALL

Edward Prebble
Edward Prebble
11 years ago

Thank you Simon, Andrew, Jane, David, Simon again, Tom, and Rosemary for these wonderful reflections. And thank you to whoever among the editors thought it was a good idea.

Here’s a thought – How about collecting them together with some lovely illustrations, and publishing them as a booklet in time for next Advent??

Ron, and others in Christchurch, you are so much in our thoughts and prayers this Christmas.

Veiled in flesh the godhead see,
Hail the incarnate deity
Pleased as man with us to dwell
Jesus our Emmanuel
Hark the Herald Angels sing
Glory to the new-born King.

11 years ago

But do you really believe it? And my answer is no. And that’s the point. You can claim it, but you have no basis in any history method or anything else to say so. It is a meditation and enjoy for what it is. It, that God was present, is as much as myth as Krishna or the Hindu view of Buddha.

Clavis David, Oriens, Adonaï, Rex Gentium, Sapientia, Emmanuel and Radix Jesse also make ‘coarser’ and this is coarser theology in the sense that it jumps to conclusions.

Father Ron Smith
11 years ago

Bah, Humbug, to you too, Pluralist. Go ahead and have your usual Grumpy Christmas. Meanwhile, we’ll be celebrating: the great love of god as revealed in the Son. Happy Christmas, anyway.

Simon Kershaw
11 years ago

Oh I dunno, I do sympathise with Pluralist’s perspective. I do think that the Divine is big enough to encompass all our petty thoughts and struggles to understand it. And I do think that in Jesus of Nazareth, the baby of Bethlehem, the Divine was present. I sketched out something along those lines in a piece I wrote here four years ago almost to the day (27 December 2007) and I have found further support for this sort of exploration and understanding in various books and articles.

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