December 16, 2019
O come, O come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
shall come to you, O Israel.
[Evangelical Lutheran Worship #257]
The assigned lectionary readings for December 22, 2019, The Fourth Sunday of Advent, are as follows:
One of my favorite pieces of classical music is Handel's
, which I play often at full blast during Advent and Easter. In part One of the oratorio, we hear
the prophecy of the Messiah and his virgin birth by several prophets, namely Isaiah. One of the pieces that is sung recalls the words from the prophet, as well as the the assigned Gospel text from Matthew for this upcoming Fourth Sunday of Advent:
Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and shall call his name EMMANUEL, God with us.
[Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:23]
The two writers are addressing two vastly different set of circumstances. Nevertheless, Matthew read this passage and saw Jesus as the fulfillment of Isaiah's hopes. Jesus is Immanuel, God with us. This phrase is profound.
For the past three weeks in many congregations you've been singing the Hymn, "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel," as you light the candles on the Advent wreath. I am bold to claim that many of you have sung this song for years around Advent with no earthly clue whatsoever as to what it means or why it is sung only at Advent. Space and time doesn't give me the luxury of telling you the entire history of this hymn, so let me just give you the briefest of summaries.
It's originally a Latin chant written sometime between the ninth or 12th Century.
"Veni Emanuel" is its original title. They were words of hope centuries ago when the Israelites were under siege. They were words of hope in the Dark Ages when living conditions were almost unbearable. And they are words of hope to our own fallen and broken world today, a world living in darkness and despair.
Perhaps the reason this hymn has endured all these years and is an Advent favorite is that the lament resonates with us. We, too, sometimes feel that we're held captive by the situation in which we find ourselves.
When we sing this hymn, we can relate to the ancient Israelites.
Human beings are created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27). This means that we were created for the express purpose of knowing and loving God. We were to depend on God for all things; we were to daily walk in God's light, God's love, God's joy, God's peace.
But because of sin, we have wandered away from God. However, God has not wandered away from us.
"Emmanuel" is actually a phrase in Hebrew (`immanu el). It doesn't contain a verb, so literally the phrase means, "God with us." It is accurate however to provide a present tense form of "to be," as our Gospel text does ("God is with us"). It's important to emphasize the present tense. God was not just with us only during Jesus' lifetime, but through Jesus, God continues to be with us.
"Immanuel" sums up everything there is to say about this baby known as Jesus.
In his book of Christmas meditations,
The Mood of Christmas, the late Howard Thurman emphasized that, "the hope of every generation is in the birth of the child. The stirring of the child in the womb is the perennial sign of man's attack on bigotry, blindness, prejudice, greed, hate, and all the host of diseases that make of man's life a nightmare and a holocaust." [p. 16]
Advent is a time of preparation for the coming of God, a time to pay attention to the clues that God is active, that God is with us.
We are reminded, in Jesus, that God's face is always there, the warmth of God's loving heart is always there.
Immanuel - God with us
May we remember that fact throughout Advent, throughout Christmas, and the rest of the year.
A reminder that our Lutheran Center offices will close at the end of the day on Friday, December 20, for the Christmas holiday. We will reopen on Monday, January 6, 2020.
However, Monday Musings will publish during the break. I confess that I will be writing ahead of schedule, so the musings will not be addressing any late-breaking issues.
May you enjoy a restful and joyful holiday.
This week and always, may you call upon God's name, that the God of hosts restore you, make His face shine upon you, and give you life.
+Bishop Abraham Allende