Thursday, December 23, 2010

O come, Emmanuel

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Latin translation of O Emmanuel
O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver, the hope of the nations and their Savior: Come and save us, O Lord our God.

Advent Carol

O come, O come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lowly exile here until the Son of God appear. Rejoice, rejoice. Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

The antiphon for December 23rd is based upon theme of the incarnation of the Son of God. St John wrote in his gospel, "The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14). Likewise, Isaiah prophesied, "Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel" (Isaiah 7:14), which name means "God with us" (see also Matthew 1:22).

Messianic biblical prophecies of future events work on two levels—they have an immediate application to events in the near future; they also have a long term application in the unfolding of our salvation. We see an example of that here in Isaiah.

In the immediate context, the Prophet Isaiah is confronting the King Ahaz (who is inspecting the city’s fortifications after losing several battles) to renew his faith with the sign of a child who will be an oracle that God is in fact not with our enemies; rather, God is with us. But this verse also spoke of a deeper fulfillment in God’s plan of salvation.

When St. Matthew tells the story in his Gospel of the angel Gabriel’s visit to the Virgin Mary to announce the birth of Jesus, Matthew tells us, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us).”

With the virgin motherhood of blessed Mary, God has given us a sign . . . an oracle to say that God is no longer in distant heavens; God is with us. God is now one of us. The Word has become flesh and dwells among us. This is what we call the incarnation. At Christmastime, God unwraps the gift that keeps on giving. The gift of the Christ child is the fount of grace which wells up at the cross.

"Therefore, following the holy fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance (homo-ousios) with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin; as regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten, for us men and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, the God-bearer (Theotokos); one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ; even as the prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the creed of the Fathers has handed down to us." (Definition of the Union of the Divine and Human Natures in the Person of Christ, Council of Chalcedon, 451 A.D., Act V, quoted in the Book of Common Prayer, p 864.)

Although these antiphons and dates have been common throughout the western Church, our Anglican patrimony includes an alternative medieval English usage that arose of moving all of the antiphons forward by one day (commencing on 16 December) and adding an additional eighth antiphon on 23 December, as follows:

Latin translation of O Virgo virginum
O Virgin of virgins, how shall this be? For neither before thee was any like thee, nor shall there be after. Daughters of Jerusalem, why marvel ye at me? The thing which ye behold is a divine mystery.

Unfortunately, no paraphrase of this antiphon was included in the Advent carol. But as with the previous antiphon, the motherhood of this virgin is a sign that God is both the Father above, and that God is the Son who has come to dwell among us.

Mary’s virginity is hailed as an outward sign of her purity of soul. The Greek Liturgies of St Basil the Great and St John Chrysostom call her Panagia (the “All-Holy One”) and Panagiota (the “All-Sinless One”). Thus, she is the Virgin of virgins, the exemplar of chastity and virtue.

Archbishop of Canterbury William Wake, outlined the Church of England’s view on Mary in a sermon in 1688, saying, “We believe her to have been a most pure, and holy, and virtuous creature: . . . that her virgin mind was clean and spotless, as her body chaste and immaculate; and that she was upon the account of both, the most fit of any of her race or sex for the Holy Ghost to over-shadow, and for the Son of the most highest to inhabit.”

George Hickes, the Dean of Worcester also commented on the theme of the purity of Mary in one of his sermons: “She that was the Mother of God could not be [anything] but a very good woman; she that conceived, and bare, and brought forth the holy Child Jesus, the Virgin Mother of Immanuel, . . . surely must have been pure, as he was pure, and holy, as he was holy.”

Since March, she has been the tabernacle of God, carrying the seed of promise, the holy Child whom God foretold would crush the serpent’s head. St Irenaeus of Lyons in the 2nd Century put it this way, “And so the knot tied by Eve’s disobedience was unloosed through the obedience of Mary; for what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the Virgin Mary free through faith.” May God engender the same faith in our hearts.

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