by Neil McKown, director of youth ministries
O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear.
Refrain: Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.
O come, thou Wisdom from on high, who orderest all things mightily;
To us the path of knowledge show; and teach us in her ways to go. Refrain
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. Refrain
O come, thou Root of Jesse, free thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
from depths of hell thy people save and give them victory o’er the grave. Refrain
O come, thou Key of David, come, and open wide our heavenly home;
make safe the way that leads on high, and close the path to misery. Refrain
O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer our spirits by thine advent here;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death’s dark shadows put to flight. Refrain
O come, Desire of nations, bind all peoples in one heart and mind;
bid envy, strife, and discord cease; fill the whole world with heaven’s peace. Refrain
Cast of Characters: NEIL: Director of Student Ministries YOU: The Reader of this devotional
ACT 1: SCENE 1
Brady’s Coffee House across the street from FPC in Tyler, TX. It’s a beautiful, slightly overcast fall day, and you and Neil are walking in to grab a cup of coffee, like you do after church every Sunday.
Enter in YOU and NEIL with cups of coffee and sitting down at a table.
YOU: Man Neil, I really enjoyed singing O Come, O Come Emmanuel today! It’s one of my favorites.
NEIL: I agree; it’s a beautiful hymn. It’s really fitting for the Advent season as well! Hey, did you know that that hymn was originally composed in Latin?
YOU: No, I didn’t!
NEIL: It’s also one of the oldest in any hymnal based on an even older set of prayers, the “O Antiphons.”
YOU: Anti-phones, what? Neil, do you hate technology or something? How do you work with youth if you don’t like using your phone?
NEIL: Not anti-phones…Antiphons. An antiphon is just a sung response to a psalm or other biblical text.
YOU: Nerd alert!
YOU and NEIL chuckling
YOU: What does an anti-phone have to do with O Come, O Come Emmanuel?
NEIL: Well…the O Antiphons, are a series of seven musical prayers beginning with "O"
YOU: Oh really?!
NEIL rolls his eyes with a slight smirk on his face.
NEIL: They begin with “O” and a title of Jesus. After some brief elaboration on the implications of the title, the O Antiphons ask Jesus to come.
Crickets chirp in the background
NEIL: For example, the seventh antiphon reads, "O Emmanuel, our King and Lawgiver, the Expected of the nations and their Savior. Come and save us, O Lord our God." As you can see, this antiphon inspired the first verse of O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. Other verses were inspired by other antiphons.
YOU: You’ve got way too much time on your hands, Neil…
NEIL: And - crying out for Emmanuel to come is also a response to a prophetic text in Isaiah.
YOU: What’s prophetic?
NEIL: A text that was prophesied about in the Old Testament, a story that foretold something to come.
YOU: Continue Webster.
NEIL: So in Isaiah 7:14, the prophet says, "Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son…
YOU: …and will call him Immanuel." I know that passage!
NEIL: In light of the miraculous birth of Jesus, Christians have understood this verse as referring to Jesus. Look at Matthew 1:22. He was born of a virgin. He was quite literally Emmanuel, meaning . . . ?
YOU: God with us.
NEIL: Ding, ding, ding! Correct!
YOU: Now don’t get me wrong…I really like the hymn O Come, O Come Emmanuel, but when I sing the lyrics I think to myself “These lyrics are kind of dark and sad...”
NEIL: Well, these lyrics are really different from the joyful carols of Christmas. When we sing this song, we put ourselves in the place of "captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here." We pray to be set free "from Satan's tyranny" and to be saved "from depths of Hell." We ask our God to "disperse the gloomy clouds of night" and "death's dark shadows put to flight."
YOU: Exactly…sometimes these words just seem overly glum and a little disconnected from our lives.
NEIL: A final thought as we approach Christmas—the coming of Emmanuel. There is much we cannot understand about our world. We cannot fathom why innocent people suffer, why bad things happen all over, why God doesn’t make things better right now. But, in our confusion, we do know something that keeps us going, something that strengthens us in the midst of sorrow and misunderstanding. We know that Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us. In our pain and puzzlement, God is with us. In our sadness and yearning, God is with us. In our doubt and fear, God is with us. Through Jesus Christ and through the Holy Spirit, God is with us; and, not just with us, but for us, beside us, before us, behind us, within us, and among us. So we are comforted, even as we pray, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”
• What makes you sad or fearful? What do you wish you could change in this world?
• In what ways are you longing for Emmanuel to come this week?
O come, O come, Emmanuel. Free us from sins and fears. Disperse the gloomy clouds of night and death’s dark shadows put to flight. Bid envy, strife, and discord cease; fill the whole world with heaven’s peace. Amen.