O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in exile here
Until the Son of God appear. The Hymnal 1982
O Emmanuel, ruler and lawgiver, desire of the nations, Savior of all people:
Come and set us free, Lord our God. Traditional
“O come, O come, Emmanuel” is not the favorite of our Advent/Christmas hymns for our Jewish brothers and sisters. It seems to indicate that they are less than us, using a plethora of negative images: captive, in mourning, in exile. It is interesting that the traditional antiphons don’t have this same sense; it’s really in the hymn that developed, although that was as early as the 9th century. Of course, by then, anti-Jewish sentiment was high in the Church.
We can, of course, look at the verse in several different ways. “Israel” is a name the Church also claims for itself, so the text may be about us with all of its images. Or it may be an “historical” text, looking back to the historical exile and the desire of the Jewish people for a rescuer, a savior.
At any rate, it is the title for Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us, that is the primary focus of this last of the O antiphons. Three quotes to “stir up” you’re spirit:
The first from Roman Catholic theologian Karl Rahner (from Meditations on Hope and Love):
It is both terrible and comforting to dwell in the inconceivable nearness of God, and so to be loved by God that the first and last gift is infinity and inconceivability itself. But we have no choice. God is with us.
The second from poet Gerard Manley Hopkins (from his poem “The Wreck of the Deutschland”):
In a flash, at a trumpet crash,
I am all at once what Christ is, since he was what I am.
And, finally, from St Athanasius in the 3rd century:
The Son of God became the Son of Man so that the children of humankind might become the children of God.