Dec. 23: O Emmanel!
- Since tomorrow is First Vespers of Christmas, actually beginning the
solemnity, today's antiphon is the last of the great O Antiphons. The
Roman Church formerly made more extensive use of the Jewish custom of
beginning feasts the night before, spanning sunset to sunset, but now
reserves that practice for Sundays and solemnities. Too bad, in a
way. First Vespers of many lesser feasts used to be a joy, and it was
a further connection to our Jewish roots.
A bit of trivia, for which I am indebted to Joyce, who learned it in a Dominican
college in the 50's. If you take the first letters of the second words (after the initial O,)
which begin each antiphon, you get the acronym: SARCORE. Read backwards, on
Dec. 24, that spells "Ero cras" Latin for "Tomorrow I will be (there)". Now
some monk of the Middle Ages must have had a lot of time on his (or her!)
hands to figure that one out.
It is worth noting that the Orthodox Slavs share a very Jewish
custom, (usually linked to the weekly Sabbath,) on Christmas Eve. The
Orthodox fast on that day, then share a meatless, but festive Holy
Supper in the evening after the first star has appeared. (I think the
Jewish custom actually waits for the second star to appear...) In
folk tradition, the first star was regarded as that of Bethlehem,
which led the Magi.
"O Emmanuel, our King and Lawgiver, the Expected of Nations and their
Savior: come, and save us, O Lord our God!"
Emmanuel- God with us- this was a radical fulfillment of the
Messianic prophecies which the Jews had never dreamed would happen: a
divine Messiah. Though the promises all refer to and fit Jesus, the
Messiah expected by the Israelites was not divine. To their
reasoning, none could be literally divine, really the Son of God.
Their expectation of a saving ruler did not assume that God would
share His very nature and essence with the Anointed One.
Emmanuel reflects an entirely Christian and entirely new theology,
one of Incarnation and an immanence hitherto unknown. God with us,
sharing every hardship of humanity in His own flesh, dwelling not in
a Temple spiritually, but as flesh and blood among humanity, wishing
to remain with us until the end of time. This is a dramatic contrast
to the affection, yet distance with which the Lord was regarded in
the Old Testament.
Emmanuel- God with us- it finally springs the liturgical construct
of "waiting" all through and admits that we knew He was there all
along. Advent has that flavor, of a pretended waiting for Him Whom we
know to have already arrived. We place ourselves in the shoes of
those who had Him not in order to better appreciate Him Whom we have
had all along.
We hail Christ as King and Lawgiver (Isaiah 32:22,) and echo the
dying words of Jacob in Gen. 49:10, " The scepter will not pass from
Judah, nor a ruler form his thigh, till He comes that is to be sent.
He is the expectation of the nations." We ask Him to save us. The
Latin "Salva" , the imperative form of "to save," is related
to "salus", health, wholeness. We are asking for a holistic well-
being of mind, soul and body when we thus ask to be saved. We
are, in fact, asking to finally be made perfect, fully whole and sound,
something only God can do!
Lastly, we no longer beat around the bush, (burning or otherwise!) We
come right out and directly call Jesus "our Lord and our God." It is
the crowning acclamation of faith to a long season of expectation.
A blessed late Advent and Christmas to you all. I have enjoyed
sharing these with you because I truly feel they are the best poetry
left in the liturgy of the West, even beating out the now pared-down
Exultet at Easter!
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