A reflection given by one of our sisters on today’s Magnificat Antiphon, which addresses Christ as Emmanuel – God with us. (To listen, click the ‘play’ button in the box below).

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 O Emmanuel

  Today we have come to the 7th and final ‘O’ Antiphon – the climax of them all.

“O Emmanuel, King and Lawgiver, desire of the nations; Saviour of all peoples: 
come and set us free, Lord our God.” 

Or

“O Emmanuel, You are our King and Judge; the One whom the peoples await and their Saviour.   
O come, save us, Lord, our God,”
In it, the Messiah is addressed in person and is asked to remain with us as Emmanuel.


This – the last – is appointed for the day before Christmas Eve, when we are about to celebrate the coming of God to earth in human flesh.

Since this is the last and climax of the antiphons, “O Emmanuel” repeats phrases and ideas which have occurred previously, in particular ‘King’ and ‘Lawgiver’.  These two words are significant as they indicate the great difference between us and God; the vast gap between Creator and creature; Ruler and ruled.  ‘Lawgiver’ occurs in the other antiphon with a Hebrew title, “O Adonai”, which means Lord and is also a reverent way of indicating, without uttering, the Divine Name.

The word ‘Emmanuel’ occurs only three times in the Bible: in Is 7:14; 8:8; and Mt 1:23, but the idea it expresses is found in practically every book.  “The Lord is with you” … “The Lord will be with you” … The basic meaning of ‘God with us’ is that God acts on our behalf.  In Jdg, “The Lord is with you, mighty man of valour … I will be with you and you will smite the Midianites as one” (6:12, 16).

The initials of each antiphon in the Latin – in reverse – create the words ‘ERO CRAS’ meaning ‘To-morrow I shall be there’ – which is seen as the answer of Christ to the petitions in the other six antiphons.

“You are the one whom the people await.”  Our time of waiting is nearly over – as Kipling said long ago, ‘waiting and not being tired of waiting.”  For 4,000 years the Jewish people waited and waited and longed for a Saviour to come and free them form slavery and to save them.  And the angel said, “You shall call Him Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins.”

Emmanuel, God with us in the fully human Person of Jesus Christ, born on this earth of Mary in a certain place, at a certain time.  It beggars belief that God should empty Himself of His Godhead and become one of us, a tiny baby, lying in a manger.  “What a wonderful exchange.”  ‘What great nation is there, that has its gods so near, as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call Him?” (Dt 4:7).  It is for us that Christ is born – we will hear at Midnight Mass, the prophecy of Isaiah: ‘A child is born for us, a Son given to us.’ (First Reading)

The ideas in the now famous Christmas Carol, “Oh! Holy Night”, written 1847 by Placide Cappeau, have always appealed to me –

‘The King of kings lay thus in lowly manger,

In all our trials, born to be our friend.

He knows our need, He guardeth us from danger …’

St Matthew quotes the ‘Emmanuel’ text (cf1:23) in the first chapter of ‘his’ gospel and he concludes with the promise of Christ on appearing to His disciples after His resurrection, ‘Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age’ (28:20).  He is with us every day in the Holy Eucharist; He is with us deep in our hearts; He is with us, gathered together in His Name.  What gratitude can we show?

Again, from ‘Oh! Holy Night’ –

‘Fall on your knees …

‘Behold your King, before Him lowly bend,

Behold your King, before Him lowly bend.’

O Come, Emmanuel