Friday, December 23, 2011

O Emmanuel

Note: This post is the seventh and final in a series of posts on the "O Antiphons" that I wrote two years ago. I'm reposting them here this year as we head towards Christmas.

O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver, 
the hope of the nations and their Saviour: 
Come and save us, O Lord our God. 

Everyone wants a sign, some sort of certainty that their faith is not staked upon a fantasy.

The Lord offered to give a sign to Ahaz. Ahaz was king of Judah for a time during what's known as the divided kingdom. Israel had joined forces with Aram (Syria) to attack Jerusalem. The story in 2 Kings tells us that the Lord sent Isaiah out to meet Ahaz, telling Ahaz to have courage because the Lord would protect him. Israel and Syria wanted Jerusalem for their own, but the Lord would strengthen Ahaz so he could protect it. Yet, the Lord warned Ahaz, “If you do not stand firm in faith, you shall not stand at all.”

And then the Lord offered Ahaz a sign.

Ahaz refused, saying he would not put the Lord to the test. But the Lord knew that Ahaz was not speaking from a place of deep faith, but from a place of deep fear. The Lord knew that Ahaz did not refuse the sign because he trusted God, but because he was terrified of what might happen to him. (And Ahaz was already arranging an alliance with Assyria, hoping they could protect him.)

So the Lord gave Ahaz a sign anyway: Immanuel.

“Look,” the Lord said, “The young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.” Isaiah also prophesied that the country Ahaz had trusted in to help him (Assyria) would instead come and lay waste to Jerusalem. Israel would be carried off into captivity by Assyria and destroyed. Later, Judah would also be carried off into captivity by Babylon. God's people would be taken from their land and the supposedly everlasting covenant of Abraham and David would seem to be revoked.

O come, O come, Emmanuel, 
and ransom captive Israel, 
that mourns in lonely exile here 
until the Son of God appear. 

Eventually, the Persian empire came to power and Judah was returned to their homeland. They rebuilt the temple but never fully retained sovereignty over their land. For a brief period during the 2nd century BC, it appeared as though the revolt led by the Maccabees would give the Jewish people sovereignty. However, the Seleucid empire regained control. In 63 BC, Pompey captured Jerusalem for Rome, subjecting the Jews to Roman rule.

And it was into this context that Mary received news that she would give birth to the Messiah... the captivity of God's people appeared about to end.

But you need to remember the sign of Immanuel. The word literally means, “God with us.” The young woman would give birth and the child would be called “God with us.” In the context of exile and captivity, where God seems profoundly absent, this name of "God with us" becomes so very important. No longer will we feel lost. No longer will we feel as though there is always someone on our back, pressing us down. No longer will we search the skies and search the ancient texts for some sign that God is still around.

God will be with us.

God with us.

Some of the Jewish people thought the Messiah would come and give them political freedom. Instead the Messiah came and suffered alongside of them. Many thought the Messiah would return to them the power that had been stolen, instead the Messiah came and spoke up for the powerless. Many thought the Messiah would be a sign that God was for them. Instead, the Messiah was actually God with them, right alongside of them.

Now, you and I may not be in exile. We may not be in captivity. But we share the same confusion as some of the first century Jews, thinking that the kingdom is about political power or the success of our particular agenda. Who would have thought that Immanuel was actually just what it says: God with us? We will no longer be alone. We will no longer search desperately for God's presence in our life.

Look, a young woman is about to give birth. She doesn't look like the mother of a king. She's a unwed pregnant teenager, after all. But look, look so very carefully and take note. Because the child she will bear will be called Immanuel.

The child will be Emmanuel.

God will be with us.

God with us.

O Emmanuel.


Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

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