“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” (O Antiphons)

Fourth Sunday in Advent
December 23, 2018

“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” (O Antiphons)

The Hymn of the Day today for this Fourth Sunday in Advent is hymn 357 in Lutheran Service Book, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” Please turn there now and maybe even mark it with the ribbon, because we’ll be referring to it throughout the sermon.

You’ll notice on the page facing the hymn that there is a heading, “The Great ‘O’ Antiphons.” And there you will see seven such antiphons, listed by date, starting on December 17 and ending today, December 23. They’re called the “O” Antiphons, because each one starts with an “O,” which you use when you’re addressing someone, followed by a particular title addressing Christ: O Wisdom, O Adonai, O Root of Jesse, and so on. And they are antiphons, which are little framing verses used in the liturgy. In this case, they were used to frame the Magnificat, during Vespers over the last seven evenings before Christmas Eve.

Now if you compare these “O Antiphons” to the hymn, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” you will see that these seven antiphons were the basis for the seven stanzas of the hymn. The only difference is that we sing the Emmanuel hymn stanza first, whereas the Emmanuel antiphon actually comes last–today, on December 23.

The O Antiphons are prayers to Christ, in anticipation of his coming at Christmas, each one using a different messianic title. These titles each have their own background in the Old Testament, and they are fulfilled in the New Testament in the coming of Christ. And so there is a message for us in these seven antiphons, because each one tells us something about our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And who Jesus is, and who he is for us, makes all the difference in the world–indeed, in this world and the next. So let’s find out what that message is. And, in fact, there is even a hidden message here, which we’ll get to at the end.

Now here’s how we’ll do this. We’ll sing the hymn, one stanza at a time. After each stanza, I’ll read a Bible verse that relates to the particular messianic title. I’ll explain it briefly, and then we’ll pray the corresponding O Antiphon on the facing page. And that hidden message that I mentioned? We’ll get to that after we’re done with all seven antiphons. So just hold on.

Since the O Antiphons really begin with the one for “Wisdom,” let’s begin there in the hymn also, saving the “Emmanuel” stanza for last. So now let’s sing Hymn 357, stanza 2:

O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
Who ord’rest all things mightily;
To us the path of knowledge show,
And teach us in her ways to go.

A Bible passage for this is Isaiah 11:2: “And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.”

Christ is our wisdom. He is wisdom from on high. The Messiah was prophesied to be the embodiment of divine wisdom, and so he is. He is the eternal Word of God, the Logos, active in creation and upholding the universe. Christ is the Word made flesh, coming from the side of the Father. He makes God known to us. He teaches us the truth.

But God’s wisdom is not the wisdom of this world. The world does not understand the true wisdom. The world thinks that it’s foolishness, this message we preach, Christ crucified. But to us who are called by God and who believe and are saved, we know that Christ really is the wisdom from on high.

So now let us pray together the antiphon for December 17: “O Wisdom, proceeding from the mouth of the Most High, pervading and permeating all creation, mightily ordering all things: Come and teach us the way of prudence.”

We continue by singing stanza 3 of the hymn:

O come, O come, Thou Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes on Sinai’s height
In ancient times didst give the law
In cloud and majesty and awe.

And the Bible passage for this, Exodus 3:12-14: “God said to Moses, ‘But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.’ Then Moses said to God, ‘If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, “The God of your fathers has sent me to you,” and they ask me, “What is his name?” what shall I say to them?’ God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ And he said, ‘Say this to the people of Israel, “I AM has sent me to you.”’”

In our hymn stanza, the title “Lord of might” is another way to say the “Adonai” you find in the antiphon. They’re both referring to this revealing of the divine name that God gave to Moses on Mount Sinai. God appeared to Moses in the burning bush on Sinai and revealed his name to him. The divine name in Hebrew is actually “Yahweh,” “I AM,” but the Jews would regularly substitute the word, “Adonai,” which means “Lord,” in its place.

The Lord, Adonai, Yahweh, appeared to Moses on Mount Sinai and promised that he would deliver his people Israel out of their bondage and bring them together to live as his people. That promise is fulfilled in an even greater way in the person of Christ. For Christ has brought us out of the slavery of sin and death. He calls us together to live as his people. And he will lead us all the way home, through the wilderness of this world to the promised land of heaven.

We pray the antiphon for December 18: “O Adonai and ruler of the house of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the burning bush and gave him the Law on Sinai: Come with an outstretched arm and redeem us.”

We sing stanza 4:

O come, Thou Branch of Jesse’s tree,
Free them from Satan’s tyranny
That trust Thy mighty pow’r to save,
And give them vict’ry o’er the grave.

And the Bible passage, Isaiah 11:1, 10: “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. . . . In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples–of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.”

“O Root of Jesse” or “Thou Branch of Jesse’s tree.” The first thing to ask is, Who’s this Jesse? Well, Jesse was the father of David, the David who became king of Israel and from whom a whole line of kings came–a family tree, if you will. But after many centuries as a kingdom, the nation was conquered, and that kingly line appeared as if it was cut off. The Jesse tree seemed to be cut down and cut off like a stump.

But after a long time, a little shoot would come forth from that seemingly dead stump. That is Jesus, a descendant from the line of Jesse and David. He is the Branch from Jesse’s tree. More than that, he is even the Root of Jesse, the origin and source of the whole messianic promise. His everlasting kingdom will extend to all peoples and nations.

We pray the antiphon for December 19: “O Root of Jesse, standing as an ensign before the peoples, before whom all kings are mute, to whom the nations will do homage: Come quickly to deliver us.”

Stanza 5 of the hymn:

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heav’nly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.

The Bible verse, Isaiah 22:22: “And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David. He shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.”

This prophecy is fulfilled ultimately in Christ. Jesus is from the house of David. He is the Son of David, the great Messiah. And he has all authority in heaven and on earth. He holds the key. What he opens stays open; what he shuts stays shut. And Christ has opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers, as open as his empty tomb. The risen Christ proclaims, in Revelation, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” Yes, Jesus has won the victory for us over Death and Hell! He holds the keys! He is the Key!

The antiphon for December 20: “O Key of David and scepter of the house of Israel, You open and no one can close, You close and no one can open: Come and rescue the prisoners who are in darkness and in the shadow of death.”

Stanza 6:

O come, Thou Dayspring from on high,
And cheer us by Thy drawing nigh;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight

Luke 1:78-79: “The sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

This passage in Luke paraphrases a prophecy from Malachi. The “sunrise,” or as some translations have it, the “dayspring”–that’s Jesus. Sin and death enveloped this world in thick darkness. Then Christ came, like the sun rising in the morning, signaling the dawn of a new day. Christ is the Dayspring from on high. “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

The antiphon for December 21: “O Dayspring, splendor of light everlasting: Come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.”

Stanza 7:

O come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Bid Thou our sad divisions cease,
And be Thyself our King of Peace.

Haggai 2:7: “And I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come: and I will fill this house with glory, saith the LORD of hosts.”

The “Desire of nations” in our hymn stanza refers to the “King of the nations” in the antiphon. Whether they realize it or not, Christ is the King that all the nations of the earth should desire. He is the very Prince of Peace who brings about the only true and lasting peace and unity among peoples. Christ is the king for every nation, tribe, people, and language. The church comes from many races and nationalities around the world, but we all are one, one people in Christ our King.

The antiphon for December 22: “O King of the nations, the ruler they long for, the cornerstone uniting all people: Come and save us all, whom You formed out of clay.”

And now we come to the last of the O Antiphons, which is set in our hymn as stanza 1:

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.

The Bible passage for this is Matthew 1:22-23: “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).”

The birth of Jesus fulfilled, in a very literal and very surprising way, the prophecy spoken by Isaiah. Literal, because Mary was indeed a virgin. Surprising, because she would remain a virgin when conceiving, and the birth would come about in a unique, miraculous way. But the greatest thing in the fulfillment of the prophecy was in that word, “Immanuel.” “Im-manu-el,” Hebrew for “With-us-God.” “God with us,” that’s who this little baby will be! God with us to save us from our sins. That’s why Joseph was told to give him the name Jesus, for the name Jesus means “Savior.” So “God with us,” “Immanuel,” to be our “Savior,” “Jesus.” The names tell the story! And what a story it is! A Savior from sin who is God with us, with us in the midst of our perplexity and confusion, just as Joseph must have been perplexed and confused. God with us, “Immanuel,” in the midst of our “lonely exile” here in this vale of tears. Jesus, Immanuel, God with us–God with you, today and all the days to the end of the age!

We pray the antiphon for December 23: “O Emmanuel, our King and our Lord, the anointed for the nations and their Savior: Come and save us, O Lord our God.”

Now I mentioned earlier a hidden message–a secret code, actually–hidden in the antiphons. Are you ready? Here it is. Look at the insert in your bulletin, about the O Antiphons. Those funny words there? Those are the seven titles, in Latin, that are used in the O Antiphons:

Sapientia (“Wisdom”)
Adonai (“Lord”)
Radix Jesse (“Root of Jesse”)
Clavis David (“Key of David”)
Oriens (“Dayspring”)
Rex gentium (“King of the nations”)
Emmanuel (“God with us”)

Now keep in mind, these seven titles were used, one per day, over the seven evenings leading up to Christmas Eve. They end tonight, on December 23. Tomorrow night is Christmas Eve.

When you take these seven titles together, at the end of the seven days, what do you discover? Look inside your insert at the bottom righthand corner. If you take the seven words in Latin–Sapientia, Adonai, Radix, Clavis, Oriens, Rex, Emmanuel–and you then take the first letters of those words, what do they spell? S-A-R-C-O-R-E, SARCORE. And what does SARCORE mean? Absolutely nothing. But now reverse those letters, and you do come up with something with a meaning. E-R-O-C-R-A-S. Split the letters into two words, and they spell ERO CRAS. And in Latin, ERO means “I will be,” and CRAS means “tomorrow.”

“I will be, tomorrow.” Now do you see the secret code in the O Antiphons? Over these last seven days of Advent we are praying that the one who is our Wisdom, our King, our Emmanuel, and so on–we’re praying that he will come. Then when we get to today, December 23, the day before Christmas Eve, we finally get his answer: “Ero cras,” “I will be, tomorrow.” It’s as though Christ is saying: “You’ve been praying for me to come. Now here is my answer: I will be, tomorrow. I will be coming tomorrow.” “I will be with you tomorrow–and for all of your tomorrows!” This is Christ’s promise to you, my friends!

The message of the O Antiphons and the hymn based on them–that message is a most joyous one indeed! We pray, “O come, O come, Emmanuel.” And Emmanuel answers us, “I will be, tomorrow.” No wonder we sing: “Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to you, O Israel!”

Published in: on December 21, 2018 at 10:47 pm  Leave a Comment  
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