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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.

16 December 2008

Come, Lord Jesus!

Q: What do the verses of the hymn Oh, Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel mean? I know the first verse is to have the Lord deliver the Israelites, but what do the other verses signify?

O AntiphonsA: The stanzas of this favorite Advent hymn are based on seven ancient antiphons (refrains) for the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55). This song of Mary from the Visitation (Luke 1:39-56) is sung in the evening service of Vespers. One of these messianic chants was used on each of the seven days prior to Christmas Eve. Each is based on Scripture and all were composed to remind the Church that this Creation will end and Jesus will come back to rescue His people and bring them to eternal life.

The first stanza comes from the final antiphon of 23 December. Summarizing the other prophecies concerning the coming Savior, it reminds that He’ll return in the flesh to redeem His people, even as He first came in the flesh as Immanuel (Hebrew for “God with Us”), the infant Child of Bethlehem. With their Hebrew and Latin titles, here are English translations of each antiphon along with Scripture references and corresponding hymn stanzas.

God with Us - ImmanuelThe order in which they are sung, whether by design or coincidence, forms a Latin reverse acrostic. The coming Savior’s initial honorific in each antiphon is as follows: Sapientia, Adonai, Radix, Clavis, Oriens, Rex, and Emmanuel. Taking each title’s first letter and writing the result backwards yields ero cras, usually translated, “I shall be [with you] tomorrow.” This reminds us that our Lord Jesus Christ promises to return for us and lead us into eternity. In the meanwhile, He leads us to pledge ourselves to join together to receive His gifts and praise His name while we live on earth.

Aardvark Alley is again doing a daily posting of the O Antiphons. They include the original Latin for both the antiphons and the hymn stanzas, as well as links to meditations and commentary from other Lutheran bloggers.

O Sapientia: O Wisdom from on High

O SapientiaO Wisdom, proceeding from the mouth of the Most High, permeating all creation, mightily ordering all things: Come and teach us the way of prudence.

“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. And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. (Isaiah 11:2-3)” “This also comes from the Lord of hosts; he is wonderful in counsel and excellent in wisdom. (Isaiah 28:29)” See also Proverbs 1:20; Proverbs 8-9 and 1 Corinthians 1:30.

   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.
   Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
   Shall come to thee, O Israel!

O Adonai: O Lord and Ruler of the House of Israel

AdonaiO 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.

“With righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins. (Isaiah 11:4-5)” “For the Lord is our judge; the Lord is our lawgiver; the Lord is our king; he will save us. (Isaiah 33:22)” See also Exodus 3; Micah 5:2; Matthew 2:6.

   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.
   Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
   Shall come to thee, O Israel!

O Radix Jesse: O Root of Jesse

O Radix JesseO Root of Jesse, standing as an ensign before the peoples, before whom all kings are mute, to whom they will do homage: Come quickly to deliver us.

“There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. (Isaiah 11:1)” “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. (Isaiah 11:10)” Jesse was the father of David; Micah prophesied that the Messiah would be of the house and lineage of David and be born in David’s city, Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). See also Romans 15:12; Revelation 5:5.

   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.
   Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
   Shall come to you, O Israel!

O Clavis David: O Key of David

O Clavis DavidO 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 the shadow of death.

“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. (Isaiah 22:22)” “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. (Isaiah 9:7)” See also Revelation 3:7.

   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.
   Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
   Shall come to you, O Israel!

O Oriens: O Dayspring
(alternately, Dawn of the East, Rising Dawn, etc.)

O OriensO Dayspring, splendor of light everlasting: Come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined. (Isaiah 9:2)” See also Luke 1:78-79; Malachi 4:2.

   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.
   Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
   Shall come to thee, O Israel!

O Rex Gentium: O King of the Nations
(King of the Gentiles)

O Rex GentiumO 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.

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:5)” “He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. (Isaiah 2:4).” See also Revelation 15:3; Psalm 118:22; Isaiah 28:16; Matthew 21:42; Mark 12:10; Luke 20:17; Acts 4:11; Ephesians 2:19-21; 1 Peter 2:6.

   Oh, 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.
   Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
   Shall come to thee, O Israel!

O Emmanuel: O God with Us

O EmmanuelO Emmanuel, our King and our Lord, the Anointed for the nations and their Savior: Come and save us, O Lord our God.

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14)” See also Isaiah 8:6-8; Matthew 1:23; Haggai 2:7 (KJV).

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

“He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! (Revelation 22:20)”

God bless your preparations to celebrate Christ’s birth and, even more, your preparations to meet Him on the Last Day.

Public domain hymn text quoted from Lutheran Service Book, © 2006 by Concordia Publishing House.

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.

Send email to Ask the Pastor.

Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

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Newspaper column #576


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08 January, 2009 22:26  

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