O come Emmanuel!

Posted by Martin Kitara on December 18, 2023


As we come to the end of 2023, we are all too aware that we live in a world that is divided and hurting. Dr Joy Allan, our Church Engagement and Relationship Manager reflects on the theology of ‘O Antiphons’, and how the names of Christ mentioned in it are declarations of goodness in our world that is fractured and broken.

O Wisdom. O Adonai. O root of Jesse. O Key of David. O Dawn of the East. O King of the Gentiles…O Emmanuel.

Since at least as early as the sixth century, Christians have marked this season of Advent by praying and singing the ‘O Antiphons’ – proclaiming the different titles given to Christ as he comes into the world, many rooted in the prophecies of the Old Testament. We might know them best from the hymn ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel’.

They are titles brimming with hope – but, for some, particularly this year, that hope may feel hard to reach for.

As we come to the end of 2023, we are all too aware that we live in a world that is fractured and hurting. Many reach this season finding themselves fractured and hurting – bereaved, alone, feeling the absence of family. Talk of a ‘Prince of Peace’ can seem incongruous with the realities of suffering, violence, ecological crisis, homelessness

Declarations of goodness

As we sit amidst the brokenness, it may feel that the music of those O antiphons merely bounces off ancient walls, seeming like nothing more than echoing calls.

And yet…

A brief look at these names of Christ shows them to be declarations of goodness, not in the midst of ease and contentment, but in a world as fractured and broken as our own.

‘O Wisdom,’[1] in the face of a people who had been given the wisdom of the prophets yet sought the power of Kings.[2] ‘O wisdom’, a plea for the true wisdom of Christ when we see the lack of wisdom spread far and wide.

‘O Adonai.’[3] O just ruler, whose decisions ‘are for the poor of the earth,’[4] in the face of the decisions we make (or which are made for us by others), which favour anyone but those in poverty.

‘O Root of Jesse’[5] – a title describing Jesus’ human heritage as one descended from Jesse. Jesse, father of David, the ‘runt of the litter’, whose own brothers did not choose him,[6] chosen to be the ancestor of the Son of God, who himself took the form of a body also ‘rejected by man’[7] rejected by his people,[8] plotted against by hisown siblings.[9]

O Key of David.[10] Born into that rejection, that such rejection might end. But also born as one who is utterly dependable and trustable in a world in flux: ‘what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open’ (Isaiah 22)

‘O Dawn of the East.’[11] Rising with the sun, enlightening those who ‘sit in darkness.’[12] Bringing light to those of us who cannot see through the darkness of our own pain.  

‘O King of the Gentiles.’[13] Breaking divides, crossing boundaries, coming from his own people, yet for all people. Reimagining the barriers which hold us apart.

God is with us as we struggle to sing, to hear, or to be comforted

This God has not changed.

For those of us who occupy any of these spaces of grief, rejection, pain and despair in our broken and fragile world, this rings even more true. He is with us as we struggle to sing, to hear or to be comforted. He does not judge or pity us for that. Rather, the God who wept[14] though he knew he was going to raise Lazarus, weeps with us. The God who allowed his friends to call him dead even though he was walking beside them on the Emmaus road,[15] walks with us. The God who is born on the margins is with us. Emmanuel.[16] Born of a young refugee outrunning the murderous powers that be[17], born of her faith in the kingdom to come.[18]

He’s bringing that kingdom, and its truth is not found in decked halls but in a stall,[19] where a powerless baby carried all the power of the world, and grew up to cry in agony[20], so that one day, we would cry no more.[21]

Now that, I can sing to!

[1] Isaiah 11:2-3

[2] 1 Samuel 8

[3] Isaiah 11:4-5

[4] Ibid

[5] Isaiah 11:1

[6] 1 Samuel 16

[7] Isaiah 53:3

[8] Matthew 13:53-56

[9] John 7:5

[10] Isaiah 22:22

[11] Isaiah 9:2

[12] Luke 1:78-9

[13] Isaiah 2:4

[14] John 11:35

[15] Luke 24:13 -32

[16] Isaiah 7:14

[17] Matthew 2:16 – 18

[18] Luke 1:46 – 55

[19] Luke 2:7

[20] Luke 23

[21] Revelation 21:4

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