O come Emmanuel, our glorious hope
Gaude! Gaude! Emmanuel, Nascetur pro te, Israel!
Music holds listeners in ways that words often cannot. Throughout history, music has continually reflected legacy, loss, longing, love, and lament. Biblical songs appear as early as the Exodus (Exodus 15) and continue through John’s revelation (Revelation 15). The themes of most Bible songs, no matter what the reason, is a call to worship the Lord God (e.g. Exodus 15:11,1 Chronicles 16:36, 1 Samuel 2:2, Job 6:10, Psalm 33, 47, 48, 99, Luke 1, Revelation 4:8; 15:4). Invariably, the songs end with a form of rejoicing because the singers trust that the Lord is the keeper of promises to those who love Him, no matter how dire the circumstances may be.
Many of the songs became antiphonal, a call and response that allowed the people to participate in the proclamations of God’s goodness, faithfulness, and holiness. Over time, the songs of the Bible were adapted into Church liturgical canons. O Come Emmanuel, a chant dating back to the 700s, is part of the Advent liturgy prayers. The hymn, familiar to many believers, developed in the 12th century with the call of “Gaude, gaude, Emmanuel” sung by all the people in response to the Abbot’s call for each of the seven days preceding Christmas Eve. Each verse contains a prophecy of the Messiah from the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 11, 7, 9, 22, 28, 33, 52.) The seven verses, taken together, form a Latin acrostic in reverse: “ero cras,” meaning, “I will be with you tomorrow.” Leading to Christmas Eve, the chants literally pointed to the Incarnation, God with us in flesh.
The prophets told of His coming in both salvation and judgment. The Israelites of old heard the words of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, along with the proclamations from Amos, Micah, and Zechariah, among others. God declared to Jeremiah that He is the same God whether near or far away. There are no places too distant nor too hidden where we are out of God’s care. To the nations under God’s wrath, His presence was a fearful thing. To the Hebrews living in exile, it was the light of hope.
After the prophet Malachi was ignored, God was silent. And then the angelic messengers appeared to Zechariah, Mary, Joseph, and a group of shepherds, breaking the silence of 400 years. Emmanuel, God’s promise fulfilled in human form, proclaimed the news in the squall of a baby’s cry. When Jesus was born, hope arrived.
Two thousand years later, God’s children are still a people in exile. Messiah reached beyond the Hebrew people to include all who recognized him as Creator, Lord, and Redeemer (Romans 1:13-19; 2:10-16; 3:19-30). The prince of this world still rebels against God, dragging as many people down as possible in a vain attempt to thwart the will and power of the Almighty. Living in the tension of the now and not yet, we may feel abandoned, forgotten, or alone. BUT GOD. He is with us now, in the near and far away. He fills the heavens and the earth; we need only have eyes to see and faith to praise Emmanuel, God with us and for us and in us (Romans 8). Circumstances cannot define us; nor can circumstances remove us from the grip of God’s grace.
All the promises of God find their “yes” in Jesus (2 Corinthians 1:20) and we may be afflicted, but we are not destroyed (2 Corinthians 4:8-12). Instead, we are being transformed into a people with hearts to know the Lord fully, built up and planted for His eternal Kingdom (Jeremiah 24:4-7, 2 Corinthians 3:4-18). Rejoice, o Israel, for Emmanuel, God with us, will come. In fact, He is already here.
O come, O come, Emmanuel, Thou Wisdom, Thou Lord of might, Thou Rod of Jesse, Thou King of David, Thou Dayspring, Thou Desire of nations!