From the Fall/Winter 2017 issue of Reflections magazine
by Sylvia Maddox
On the first Sunday of Advent, Christians from all traditions will be singing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” an ancient hymn that originated from the great “‘O’ Antiphons.” In these early-century antiphons, one verse would express longing, and the next verse would express assurance and joy. The assurance came from the experience of knowing that Christ has come, and Christ will come again.
To sing, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” is to bring us back to the truth of our deep and unending yearning for God and for a world that reflects the coming of the Messiah. We all have hopes, wishes, and prayers, but to return to our holy longings is to go more deeply into what we desire most, and what we struggle to express. The Rev. James Martin, in America magazine (www.americamagazine.org) describes this desire as “a key way that God’s voice is heard in our lives. And the deepest Christian desire, planted within us, is our desire for Christ, the Desire of the Nations.”
The hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” gives us the biblical and symbolic language of these desires, by rooting them in biblical time and place and then bringing them to our own time and place. When we enter into the deeper longings each verse expresses, we enter into a greater communion with all people in the world. We are singing with those who are in exile, those who are in darkness, and those who are longing for a home. In this mysterious communion of longing, we are drawn into the longings of Christ.
Into this united spirit of longing and sorrow comes the surprise of joy. Emmanuel. Christ is with us. We can see children going forth to the altar, we can hear the choir of angels, and we see places in our world where there has been healing and reconciliation. We experience a blessed assurance. We live in the mystery and wonder that Christ has come. And with hope, we will continue to sing this familiar hymn with the joy that Christ will come again.
The “O Antiphons” that we read during Advent come directly from the hymn O Come, O Come Emmanuel. Read Praying the O Antiphons here.
Sylvia Maddox is a writer and educator. She is a member of Church of Reconciliation, San Antonio TX. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.