O Antiphons: O Emmanuel
This Sunday is the Fourth Sunday of Advent, and the “O Antiphon” we consider this week is the Lord’s Messianic title, “O Emmanuel.” This is the last of the seven “O Antiphons” we have discussed over the last six weeks.
The antiphon for Vespers is:
O Emmanuel, King and Lawgiver,
Desire of the Nations, Savior of All People,
come and set us free, Lord our God.
The Alleluia for Mass modifies it as, “O Emmanuel, our King and Giver of Law: come to save us, Lord our God!”
Isaiah’s prophecy giving us the messianic title of “Emmanuel” (or “Immanuel”) is from a prophetic word to King Ahaz (ca. 735-715 BC): “The Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel [Emmanuel]” (Is 7:14; cf. 8:8). “Emmanuel” means “God is with us” (Mt. 1:23, and the meaning of the Hebrew). It appears in the Bible only in these three places.
Now in Biblical prophecy, a word may have more than one fulfillment, as we saw previously in our discussion of the antiphon, “O Key of David,” concerning Isaiah’s prophecy to remove and replace the king’s royal steward (chancellor) – fulfilled preliminarily when Hezekiah was king (c. 715-687 BC) but ultimately in the Messiah, Christ Jesus, and his Church.
Here, in Isaiah Ch. 7, Hezekiah’s father, Ahaz, is king, and the preliminary fulfillment probably was with the virgin (or young girl) Abijah (2 Chron 29:1), and her son, Hezekiah. But the ultimate fulfillment is in the Blessed Virgin Mary and her Son, Jesus Christ, as St. Matthew affirms by quoting Isaiah’s prophecy and affirming its fulfillment (Mt1:22-23).
When St. Matthew also tells us that “Emmanuel” means “God is with us” (Mt 1:23), he states this on the heels of the angel telling Joseph that Mary’s child “is of the Holy Spirit” (Mt 1:20) – which is God with us indeed!
In fact, the angel Gabriel tells Mary the same thing at the Annunciation. He begins by telling her, “The Lord is with you.” (Lk 1:28) Mary wonders what Gabriel’s greeting means – is she thinking of Isaiah’s messianic prophecy? Gabriel also says, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you, therefore the Child to be born will be called Holy, the Son of God.... For with God, nothing will be impossible.” (Lk 1:35, 37).
This expression of God “overshadowing” is the same expression in the Greek Septuagint version of the OT (3rd Century BC) of Exodus where God “overshadows” the Tabernacle in the wilderness, making it his dwelling with his people (Ex 40:34-35; Greek).
Not only does Gabriel speak of the Holy Spirit, but also of the Most High (the Father), and that the Child is the Holy (divine) Son of God – thus revealing all three persons of the Blessed Trinity, as well as the divine and human natures in the one Person of Jesus Christ. God, indeed, is “with” us, now incarnate in human flesh! The very same flesh as ours! With us indeed!
The Messianic title “Desire of Nations,” is from earlier translations of Haggai 2:8, “‘And I will move all nations: and the Desired of all Nations shall come; and I will fill this house with glory,’ saith the Lord of Hosts” (Douay).
And so we pray: O Emmanuel, O God With Us, O Our Desire – come and be with us once more, even more fully within us and Lord of all nations!