This evening the Church will sing the concluding “O” Antiphon before the Magnificat at Vespers: O Emmanuel (O God with Us). Here is Bishop Earl Boyea’s brief reflection upon this final antiphon:
The seventh and final antiphon before Christmas is sung on December 23: “O Emmanuel, king and lawgiver, desire of the nations, Savior of all people, come and set us free, Lord our God.”
We now come to the final O Antiphon, the one which anticipates most clearly what we will celebrate tomorrow evening, the birth of the Messiah, God with us, Emmanuel.
With war facing King Ahaz in 735 BC, Isaiah went to him with God’s words that the king should remain calm and not fear but trust in God rather than in Assyria for his enemies would be destroyed. The prophet even offered to give Ahaz a sign, which the wavering king rejected. Frustrated, Isaiah then said: “the Lord himself will give you a sign; the young woman, pregnant and about to bear a son, shall name him Emmanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). Since the blessed Davidic son awaited by Isaiah did not, in fact, turn out to be what he expected, we have since understood this to be a prophecy about the virgin Mary and the birth of her son, Jesus, who truly is God with us.
Matthew cites this text of Isaiah as part of the dream sequence experienced by Joseph, who then took Mary into his home (Matthew1:23).
This antiphon then sums up all the previous one. This Messiah is to be a king like David, a lawgiver like Moses, he will be the one desired by the nations. He will be Lord and savior. But most of all he will be God with us.
Sisters and brothers, tomorrow evening we begin the Christmas season, the time for us to celebrate the coming of God into our midst as one of us in all things but sin. To see all these qualities wrapped up in a simple and small child can be difficult. But, as we know, most often great things come in small packages. A blessed Christmas to you all.