Come, Emmanuel! (#2)

As the anticipation, the “Watching and waiting, looking above” continues, we move (backward) to the first verse of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”  Perhaps, this is the most poignant of this hymns litany of verses, with its begging and pleading for Messiah to come…little did they know just what that Messiah would look like.

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 thee,
O, Israel.

O-Come-EmmanuelAs I stated in my last entry, each verse gives us a glimpse into a different prophecy, a different Name identified in scripture.  “Emmanuel” meaning “God is With Us” (or even better translated “God is With us Now”, we know well from the prophecy of Isaiah which is reiterated in Matthew & Luke’s account of the birth narrative. (Is. 7:14, Mt 1:23)

Musically speaking, this hymn and namely this opening verse and its significance is inextricably tied to its role in the great “O” Antiphons.  Hymnologist J.R. Watson provides a context for the antiphons included on the second page after the hymn in the most recent printing of the United Methodist Hymnal: “The antiphons, sometimes called the ‘O antiphons’ or ‘The Great O’s’, were designated to concentrate the mind on the coming Christmas, enriching the meaning of the Incarnation with a complex series of references from the Old and New Testaments.”

Each antiphon begins as follows:

O Sapentia (Wisdom)
O Adonai
 (Hebrew word for God)
O Radix Jesse
 (stem or root of Jesse)
O Clavis David
 (key of David)
O Oriens
 (dayspring)
O Rex genitium
 (King of the Gentiles)
O Emmanuel

If one were to look at the first letter of the second word of these titles, each with verses translated by John Mason Neale in various hymnals of our time, you’d find an acrostic, SARCORE.  When spelled backwards, and this is where the interesting-ness continues, you get “ero cras,” which in the Latin means “I will be present tomorrow.” Every one of the Latin titles anticipating the coming Messiah, Jesus are from the Old Testament except “Emmanuel,” which is found both in Isaiah 7:14 and Matthew 1:23, as mentioned above. Matthew quotes Isaiah virtually verbatim—“Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel”—with the exception that Matthew adds the phrase: “which being interpreted is, God with us.”

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 thee,
O, Israel.

I love the longing in the words of this prayer…like Israel amidst it’s waiting for liberation…like those in the 400-year period of silence, waiting for Messiah to come…we too are longing, waiting to be ransomed out of this earthly captivity.  So we wait…but we rejoice, because, like the writer who penned the “rejoice” chorus, we know how the story ends.  Messiah did come…and will come again. In the meantime, “Maranatha…Lord, come quickly…and thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.”

Come, Emmanuel!

Come, Emmanuel!

No sooner had the Thanksgiving dressing been put away to become a late-afternoon football snack than the Christmas decor began to make its grand entrance from almost a year’s worth of being stored away!

Isn’t this story so true in many of our homes?  Seems like some folks
have been ready to unleash Burl Ives, Ray Conniff, Mitch Miller and Jose Feliciano since mid-August…but alas, we can hold them off no longer.  For the season of anticipating Christmas is finally here…the Advent of Christ is upon us according to the Christian Calendar.

Maybe it is the weather of the last few days (both at home and in Chicago), but I’ve been thinking about the lyrics of one of my favorite Christmas hymns which guides us through the advent story so well…and does so with such a potent lyrical connection for us today that I really can’t wait to start singing it.

The words find their origins as early as the mid-late 12th century and were translated (or believed to be translated) by John Mason Neale around 1851.

The music finds its origin in the Libera Me, from the funeral mass of the Catholic Mass.  It was called Veni Emmanuel as early as the late 15th century when it was paired with the ancient text by a group of Fransiscan Nuns.  It’s scriptural connection, throughout each verse we know and those left out of modern hymnody is obvious.  We see Isaiah 7:14 “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. The Rod of Jesse refers to Isaiah 11:1: “There shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse;” Jesse was, of course, the father of David, second king of Israel. Day-Spring comes from Zacharias, father of John the Baptist, in Luke 1:78: “The dayspring from on high has visited us.” “Thou Key of David” is in Isaiah 22:22: “The key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder,” which in turn refers to Isaiah 9:6: “The government shall be upon His shoulder.”  I’ll explore each other verse throughout this Advent season…

However, in light of the world’s recent events, terror and tragedy, and tragedy in the loss of family and friends in my own life in recent weeks, I find myself praying this prayer from one of the latter verses of O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.

O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

Indeed…come, Emmanuel.  Bring light & hope into our gloomy darkness!

S.D.G.
soli deo gloria

D.J. Bulls is the Worship & Communication Minister at Riverside Church in Coppell, TX. He is a graduate of Abilene Christian University, the University of Texas, and currently a Doctoral Student in Church Music & Hymnody. He is husband to Meghan and father to Mackenzie…He loves baseball, the Texas Rangers, and Alabama Crimson Tide Football. He teaches music, leads worship, and gets to be a conductor for a wonderful semi-professional choral ensemble in the DFW MidCities called the MidCities Chamber SingersHe composes and arranges music, is on the executive team for the Timeless Psalter project and leads worship all over the country through Bulls’ Pen Music and Fearless4You Music.

 

Tension

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While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born,
and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and
placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby,
keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them,
and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news
that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David
a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.”
(Luke 2:6–11 NIV11)

Tension. Tension can be defined as the state of being stretched tight; as a strained state or condition resulting from forces acting in opposition to each other.

Tension.
Sometimes tension is a blessing.
Often tension is a curse.

Sometimes tension serves as a motivator, a deadline for when work must be done.
Often tension and its accompanying stress keeps us from doing what we must do.

Tension. 
Sometimes we create it.
Often it is created for us.

Depending on the circumstances or situation, tension is my enemy or my friend.

We all live with a certain amount of tension.
Christianity is not immune.
We sing this world is not my home and it isn’t. But in the here and now, that’s where I dwell. And so I live within the tension of striving for Kingdom realities in a world whose values are totally opposite.

Tension.

Paul says in Ephesians 2:6 that we have been lifted up with Jesus and seated with Him in the heavenly places. And yet as another song says you can still find me living below in this old sinful world.

Tension.
I am a Saint.
I am a Sinner.
I have been declared righteous through faith even though at times I succumb to temptation, I fail miserably.

The Apostle Paul once had a dialogue about tension that so resonates with my experience of life…

So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.
For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.
What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?
Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
(Romans 7:21–25a NIV11)

Such is life in the now and not yet.
Such is the reason I cling to the story of Immanuel, God with us!

“All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:
“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son,
and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).”
(Matthew 1:22–23 NIV11)

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