by Barrie Henke
O Emmanuel, our king and our Lord, the anointed for the nations and their Savior: Come and save us, O Lord our God. – Antiphon for December 23
The season of Advent is flavored with a mixture of solemnity and expectancy. This is seen in the “O Antiphons,” ancient prayers that convey a solemnity imposed upon our earthly existence by the bitterness of sin, but a lifting heavenward of our spiritual eyes of faith to the expectant joy of a promised deliverance by our King and Lord. Our Emmanuel, our God with us, is indeed with us in our struggles on this side of eternity and shall be with us forever when by His appointment He comes to save us. Through the “O” Antiphons the groaning cry from God’s people goes up to His throne, and finally, as December 23 arrives, it seems as though all of that longing is bundled together into one final, confident, cut-to-the-chase antiphon: “O Emmanuel, our king and our Lord, the anointed for the nations and their Savior: Come and save us, O Lord our God!” This last antiphon is as pertinent for us today as it has been for God’s people down through the ages. It embodies God’s acting to save His beloved human creatures in the past, present and future.
The past: His humble coming
The promised Emmanuel did come as the Christ Child of Bethlehem’s manger. All the words foretold by the prophets was embodied in that newborn baby–Jesus. He who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, borne in the womb of Mary, brought forth in a cattle stall was Emmanuel–God with us in human flesh. Most of the world missed His coming because as God’s Wisdom it appeared as foolishness to sinful man. The world looked for a rescuer who was molded from their worldly idea of a super-hero, and Mary’s baby did not fit that mold. But He came anyway. For this coming He was anointed to fulfill the work as the Lord’s Christ, the Messiah. And to fulfill His anointed coming, He took up the cross, pouring out His life-blood to atone for the sins of all people.
The present: His gracious coming
This antiphon reminds us of the wonderful truth that our Lord’s coming and saving work is not limited to the past. Instead, it continues to take place right now. Emmanuel is very much God with us today. He comes to us graciously through His Word, Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Through these means the Holy Spirit directs the grace of our King, our Lord, and our Savior to spiritual needs in our lives. When we pray, “Come and save us, O Lord our God” He does exactly that. When the Word of God is shared, it is the Holy Spirit who is the active agent, working graciously through that Word by empowering it to have His desired effect upon the hearers. And His desired effect is the saving of souls. When the waters of Holy Baptism wash over the recipients, it is the Holy Spirit serving again as the active agent in making it a saving washing of rebirth. When the body and blood of Christ are received with earthly elements of bread and wine, it is the Holy Spirit who actively strengthens our faith and makes this meal a feast of salvation. We pray: “O Emmanuel, our king and our Lord, the anointed for the nations and their Savior: Come and save us, O Lord our God!” He does come reaffirming His gracious promise and bestowing His gracious power! And through these saving means, the Holy Spirit enables us to walk as children of the light on this side of eternity. What joy He gives us as we experience the goodness of our Lord’s coming now!
As we pray this seventh antiphon, we are filled with an expectant joy. As a child waits expectantly for the presents to be opened under the Christmas tree, so we await the great day of Christ’s return. When we pray, “Come and save us, O Lord our God!” we are anticipating the great day when all the rigors of this life will be done and we shall be with Christ forever. This is not just anticipation for the day of our death, but for the day of our resurrection. That divine baby of Bethlehem who came in humility to suffer and die, will come again in glory with all of His holy angels with Him. On that awesome day our bodies shall rise from the dust and be united with our souls to live forever in our Savior’s presence. Then, we will experience the fullness of Emmanuel, for God will be with us and we shall be with God!
During this Advent Season, may the Holy Spirit enlighten us to pray the ancient “O Antiphons” with reverent awe and confident expectancy. But on December 23, when you pray, “O Emmanuel, our king and our Lord, the anointed for the nations and their Savior: Come and save us, O Lord our God!” may you pray it with bubbly joy! After all, He who is our Emmanuel, our King, our Lord, our Savior, our God is coming to save us. Come, Lord Jesus, quickly come! Amen.
The Rev. Barrie Henke is the president of the LCMS Oklahoma District.