This is the seventh in an Advent sermon series on “The Seven Great ‘O’ Antiphons.”
“O Emmanuel, Come” (Matthew 1:18-25)
And now we come to the last of the seven O Antiphons, “O Emmanuel.” You see it there in your hymnal, on the page facing the hymn; it’s the one listed for December 23. You’ll find it also in your bulletin. So let’s pray this “Emmanuel” antiphon together: “O Emmanuel, our king and our Lord, the anointed for the nations and their Savior: Come and save us, O Lord our God.”
This word “Emmanuel”–it sounds familiar enough, but what does it mean? The word “Emmanuel” with an “E” is just the Latin spelling of the Hebrew word “Immanuel.” And in Hebrew it goes like this: “Im-manu-el.” “Im” means “with.” “Manu” means “us.” And “El” means “God.” So “Im-manu-el,” literally, “With us, God.” Or to put it a little more smoothly, “God with us.”
That’s what the word “Emmanuel” means, simple enough. But what does it mean in the larger sense to have God with us? How does that happen? Is it good or bad, to have God with us? Is that a scary or a comforting thought? What does it mean for our lives that God is with us? Those are all questions to ponder when we pray this prayer, “O Emmanuel, Come.”
The term “Emmanuel” can have both a scary and a comforting side. Scary, in that the idea of “God with us” for judgment would indeed terrify us poor miserable sinners. Our lack of faith and trust in God would be exposed. We couldn’t hide anything from God–as though we really could conceal our sins from God in the first place. Not! Remember how our father Adam tried to hide in the bushes from God, because he was afraid. Guilt will do that to you. You’ll try to run away and hide from God, keep him at a distance. But that is just a case of self-delusion. God knows where you are, and he knows what you’ve done. You can run, but you can’t hide.
How would you like to have God with you, seeing what you’re doing, hearing what you’re saying, knowing what you’re thinking, 24/7, every moment of every day? Would your life be pleasing in his sight? The things that no one else can see, but that you know–your impure thoughts, your hateful thoughts, your inner selfishness and the self-centeredness that you can’t get rid of, who you really are, deep down–would you want God knowing all that? Guess what? He already does. God with us–how will you withstand that kind of scrutiny?
So Immanuel, “God with us” in judgment–that by itself terrifies us and condemns us, and we want to run away and hide. No comfort there.
But the good news is that God is with us, not to judge us, but to save us! That’s what Christmas is all about. God coming in the flesh to be with us as our Savior. The birth of that little baby–he is Emmanuel, God with us: “‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us).”
So these two words go together: “Immanuel” and “Jesus.” “Immanuel” tells us that he is “God with us.” And “Jesus” tells us why he comes to be with us, and that is, to save us. The one who is God in the flesh, with us, living where we live–he is with us in order to save us from our sins. That’s what this other word, “Jesus,” tells us about him. Again, it’s Hebrew, “Yehoshua,” or “Yeshua” for short, and it means “Yahweh saves,” “The Lord saves.” That’s why this baby gets that name, because that’s what he will do. God with us to save us from our sins. “Immanuel.” “Jesus.”
It takes God with us in order to save us. We couldn’t do it on our own. Only God can, and he does. We couldn’t rise above our sins, or offset them with our works, or sweep them under the rug. They had to be dealt with and paid for. So God in his infinite mercy sent his own Son to do the job. Only Christ is righteous enough to keep God’s law the way it was meant to be kept. Only the sacrificial death of Christ on the cross is big enough to cover the sins of the whole world, the Son of God dying in the place of every sinner, including you. Only his holy blood can wash away our sins. So here comes Jesus, whose very name means “Savior,” to be God with us in order to save, not to judge. “Pleased as Man with man to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel.”
And Christ’s resurrection shows us that his death on the cross was powerful to do the job, to atone for our sins, save us from them, save us from the power of death, and save us for a new and everlasting life. We have a living Savior, Jesus Christ our Lord.
And this Savior is still with us. He promises, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” Jesus is still with us, here in our midst, here in his church, present to forgive our sins. And our risen Lord promises to stay with us as our Emmanuel. He says, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Your Emmanuel, Jesus Christ, is with you always, all the days, the good days and the bad. The day when your heart is warmed, life is going well, your faith is strong, you’re happy and joyful in the Lord–on that day Christ is being your Emmanuel. But also on the not-so-happy days, the day when you hear the bad diagnosis, the day when you’re lonely and depressed, the day when you’re struggling with doubt and a guilty conscience–on those days, too, Jesus is with you as your Emmanuel, forgiving you and saving you. Hear again his sure promise: “And behold, I am with you always”–literally, all the days–“to the end of the age.”
“To the end of the age”: That is where we are looking, that is where we are headed, when we pray the Emmanuel antiphon. We’re praying that Christ will come and save us on that day. Save us from the judgment to come and from the destruction and damnation that are about to fall on this planet and its people. Come and save us, good Lord! Come again at your Second Advent, and rescue us from wrath and ruination. Only you can do it, Lord; we trust in you. We look ahead in hope, according to your promise; according to your name, “Jesus,” “Savior”; according to your being Emmanuel, “God with us.” That is the ultimate goal, isn’t it? God with us, forever. “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.”
That, dear friends, is our great Advent hope, so well encapsulated in these seven O Antiphons. Oh, come, Christ our Wisdom, so ordering all things according to God’s grand design. Come, Adonai, Lord, our mighty Redeemer and Liberator. O Root of Jesse, come, the one who is both root and shoot of Israel’s line of kings. O Key of David, come, you who unlock our prison doors and open the kingdom of heaven to all believers. O Dayspring, the light that dawns upon our path. O King of the nations, our true treasure, the one we desire above all things. And now finally, O Emmanuel, God with us to save.
These antiphon prayers are true preparation, getting us ready for Christ’s coming at Christmas and at the end of time. As Christmas preparation, the seven O Antiphons are brilliantly timed. You’ll recall that you saw in your hymnal, opposite Hymn 357, that these antiphons are assigned, each one to a date, over the seven days leading up to the day of Christmas Eve. In other words, December 17 through 23.
Now look in your bulletin at the seven titles for Christ, in their Latin form: Sapientia, Adonai, Radix Jesse, Clavis David, Oriens, Rex gentium, and Emmanuel. Take the first letter from each of those titles–“S” for “Sapientia,” “A” for “Adonai,” “R” for “Radix,” and so on–put those seven letters together and what do they spell? S-A-R-C-O-R-E, SARCORE. And what does that mean? Absolutely nothing! SARCORE is not even a word. But if you take those seven letters and run them the other way around, E-R-O-C-R-A-S, “ERO CRAS,” that does mean something! “Ero,” in Latin. is the future tense of the verb “to be,” and so it means, “I will be.” And “cras”–like in our word “procrastinate”–“cras” means “tomorrow.” “Ero cras,” “I will be, tomorrow.”
So here are these seven O Antiphons, the church is praying them over seven days beginning December 17, and we end on December 23, the day before Christmas Eve. The church has been praying, “O Christ, come. Come and be here for us, to save us at your Second Coming just as surely as you came at Christmas. O come, O come, Emmanuel.” And with our prayer comes Christ’s answer, his promise, “Ero cras,” “I will be, tomorrow.” Dear friends, here is the beautiful message of the seven O Antiphons: As near as Christmas is coming, so near is the coming of our Savior. His salvation is on the way, right around the corner.
And with that, then, we bring our Advent “O Antiphon” series to a close by praying together the final, “Emmanuel” antiphon: “O Emmanuel, our king and our Lord, the anointed for the nations and their Savior: Come and save us, O Lord our God.”