O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster, exspectatio gentium, et Salvator earum: veni ad salvandum nos Domine Deus noster.
Emmanuel, our King and our Law-giver, Longing of the Gentiles, yea, and salvation thereof, come to save us, O Lord our God!
With Emmanuel, we come to the end of the O Antiphons and to the cusp of Christmas. I don't know if that news fills you with joy or with dread, but the last days of Advent are marching on toward Christmas, that moment in time when God broke into the mundane march of human history and, by doing so, transformed it utterly. At the end of the day, this revelation of God's presence in our lives, both communal and individual, changes everything and gives us real hope that the world will be set to rights and that grace will win out. It all starts with a baby in a manger and ends with the full revleation of God's redemption of this world. Those are the advents we remember in this season and which call us to witness to God's love of this world, yesterday, today and in the days to come.
Our antiphon starts with Emmaneul, whose name translates as 'God is with us'. One way we could go with our consideration of this antiphon is to examine the admittedly interesting historical context of this antiphon. We could talk about the original prophecy to Ahaz, its (admittedly partial) fulfillment in the life of Ahaz' successor, Hezekiah, its transference to the expectation of a messiah to rescue Israel from its bondage to its eventual assignment to the person of Jesus Christ. However, that would involve a rather extended romp through Old Testement and inter-testamental history which, perhaps, would do little to edify most readers, who might wonder what this antiphon has to do with anything today.
I think the place I have to start with this antiphon is with that reminder which the name gives of God's presence. This antiphon, by connecting itself with the name Emmanuel, reminds me that God is never far from me, but rather is with us through whatever is going on in our lives. Now, that is a bit of a Chrstian truism and, what is more, a rather pious one, but I wonder sometimes if I always fathom why that is important. I certainly don't think that I have always done justice to the extent to which that the God who is with us is the answer to that longing that I know my soul has for something more than myself. Many of the problems that I've faced in my 20s and 30s could have been better addressed by recognizing that the anxiety and loneliness that I experienced in those years were signs of a God-shaped hole in my life. It has taken me decades to realize that and I'm sure that it will take decades more to learn the habits needed to see that God who is with us all the time and to learn how to respond. That is the work of a lifetime and I know that I've barely started.
Of course, one of the primary problems in seeing God in our lives is the myriad of ways that He can be found. Yes, of course, I pray and, given the time, I even meditate. Both are important and both are something that I spend time doing; not always well, not always thoughtfully, but I try to be consistent with my little prayer and that helps. Of course, I can also point out those important spiritual turning-points where God nudged my path unexpectedly and, even, a little frighteningly. But, these are exceptional by their very definition as turning-points. No, the real challenge is seeing God in my everyday life as I rub shoulders with colleagues and students, strangers and friends. That isn't so easy, partly because God has a way of disguising himself quite cleverly and partly because I don't always want to meet him in those uncomfortable moments when I want to take charge and do something I want to do for a change. I say, "for a change'", but all too often that isn't the change. God is with us, but I'm not sure I always want to pay attention, even when I know that it is better for myself and everyone involved when I do.
Emmanuel reminds me both of my longing for God and where that longing can be satisified. God remains with us through everything we do or experience, but He does more than that. Somehow He manages to take all that we do- the good, the bad and the ugly- and make it work to the good. Somehow he saves us, from ourselves mostly, merely by abiding with us. May God remain with you and you with Him.