23 December 2008

O Emmanuel

O Emmanuel our King and law-giver, for whom the nations wait, O Saviour of all people: Come, Lord our God, and save us.
The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. (Psalm 46.7)

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. (Isaiah 7.14)
Emmanuel – God with us – the radical fulfilment of the Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament: a divine Messiah. Though the promises all refer to and fit Jesus, the Messiah expected by the Israelites was not divine; a great human general, yes and in some traditions a supernatural angelic being, but not God himself. In their view, no one could be literally divine, really the Son of God. Their expectation of a saving ruler did not assume that God would share His very nature and essence with the Anointed One.

Emmanuel means something entirely new and unexpected: incarnation, God with us, sharing every hardship of humanity in His own flesh, dwelling not in a Temple spiritually, but as flesh and blood among humanity, wishing to remain with us until the end of time. This is a dramatic contrast to the affection, yet distance with which the Lord was regarded in the Old Testament.

In the prayer, we ask him to save us. In Greek and Latin the word for salvation is closely related to the word for health. When Jesus says to the woman with the haemmorhage, ‘your faith has made you whole’, it could equally well be translated ‘your faith has saved you’. When we ask for salvation we are not just looking for pie in the sky when we die. It also involves a measure of healing and wholeness now – greater well-being of body, mind, and spirit – leading ultimately to being made perfect, fully whole and sound: something only God can do!

Lastly, the prayer and thus the entire set of antiphons closes by directly calling Jesus ‘our Lord and our God’: the crowning acclamation of faith after a long season of expectation.
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.

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