December 20, 2020 - Pastor Message05/18/2021
THE ‘O ANTIPHONS’ PART 4: O KING OF NATIONS & O EMMANUEL
“O come, Desire of Nations, bind in one the hearts of all humankind. Bid all our sad divisions cease, and be thyself our Prince of Peace”; “O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear” (O COME, O COME EMMANUEL, verses 7 & 1).
The seventh verse of O COME, O COME EMMANUEL as it is translated today changes the traditional title used in the O Antiphons, O King of Nations, to O Desire of Nations, opting to use a later part of the antiphon over the introduction. Regardless, the point is the same, that Jesus is the Lord of all peoples whose coming is prophesied in the Old Testament. Isaiah prophesies the birth of a royal son of David’s line who would bring eternal peace to the world: “For a child is born for us, a son is given to us; upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name him WonderCounselor, GodHero, Fatherforever, Prince of Peace. His dominion is vast and forever peaceful, upon David’s throne and over his kingdom” (Is. 9:56). This peace is brought about by his just rule over all people, as we read in Psalm 72: “O God, give your judgment to the king, to the king’s son your justice; that he may govern your people with justice and the oppressed with right judgment...May he rule from sea to sea and from the river to the earth’s bounds...May the kings of Tarshish and the islands bring tribute, and the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts. May all kings bow before him, all nations serve him” (Ps. 72:2, 811).
In the New Testament, the coming of the Prince of Peace and his universal reign are fulfilled by the birth of Christ, symbolized by the visit of the magi, royal figures from distant lands who “prostrated themselves and did him homage” (Matthew 2:11) with rich gifts: gold, symbolizing his kingship; frankincense, symbolizing his divinity; and myrrh, symbolizing his saving death which makes all one, as we read in the letter to the Ephesians: “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have become near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, he who made both [Jew and Gentile] one and broke down the dividing wall of enmity through his flesh, abolishing the law with its commandments and legal claims, that he might create in himself one new person in place of the two, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile both with God, in one body, through the cross, putting that enmity to death by it” (Eph. 2:1316). During the season of Advent, we pray that the King of Nations come and make the unity and peace symbolized in the magi a reality in our broken world.
We conclude our reflection on O COME, O COME EMMANUEL with the titular first verse, though it is actually the last of the O Antiphons, chanted by the Church just before Christmas, summing up all the other titles that have come before it. The gospel of Matthew (1:2223) sees in the miraculous birth of Jesus, a name meaning ‘God saves’, the fulfillment of a cryptic prophecy by Isaiah: “The virgin shall be with child and give birth to a son, and they shall call him Emmanuel” (Is. 7:14), a name meaning ‘God is with us’. Isaiah proclaims this prophecy to the unfaithful king Ahaz at a time when Jerusalem is under siege and the royal house of David is in danger of being snuffed out. God offers the virgin birth of a son who will bear his own divine name as a sign that he is with his people, even in their darkest hour, and that he will fulfill his promise to David that a king from his line would sit on his throne forever, yet Ahaz refuses to listen and places his trust in worldly powers rather than God. Because of the unfaithfulness of kings like Ahaz, who led the people away from God into sin, God allowed the people to be conquered by foreign powers and sent captive into exile.
But he did not forget his promise, nor abandon his people forever. The prophecy of the virgin birth of Emmanuel would be fulfilled in the most amazing way imaginable. In the fullness of time, God would not only give birth to a sign of his saving presence through a virgin: God himself would come to his people in his own divine Son, conceived in the flesh by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary and born in Bethlehem, the city of David. God has thus fulfilled all the prophecies of the Old Testament, with David and his heir becoming the sign of whom Jesus is the longhoped for and farexceeding reality: the incarnation of God’s wisdom and might; our savior who throws open to us the gates of the heavenly Jerusalem once barred by our sin; the dawn from on high who breaks upon us, shining on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death and guiding all people unto the way of peace (Luke 1:7879). As we enter into this final week of Advent, may we reflect deeply on each of these titles of Jesus. May our reflection strengthen our faith that, in him, God is with us. And may our faith increase our longing for the fulfillment of God’s promises in Jesus, not only in history, but in our own lives.
Fr. Marc Stockton