O come, O come, O Lord of might,
as to your tribes on Sinai’s height
in ancient times you gave the law
in cloud, and majesty, and awe.
Emmanuel shall come to you, O Israel.
You may recognize this verse as one from the Advent hymn, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” a hymn that is beloved by many of us.
The words of the hymn come from the “O Antiphons” that have been sung in the church since at least the eighth century. They are the antiphons that accompany the Magnificat canticle of Evening Prayer from December 17-23.
Antiphons were often sung responsively by two choirs seated opposite one another in the chancel of the church. The melody we know is plainsong, a kind of unison song sung in the Christian church from the earliest of times. This one comes from a French processional of the 15th century.
Originally the hymn (the O Antiphons) had 7 verses and each verse was sung in the Evening Prayer on each of the last days of Advent as noted above.
For those of you who are familiar with the Evangelical Lutheran Worship book, it is hymn 257. Others of you will likely also find it in your worship books or hymnals, perhaps in the Advent or Christmas sections.
The verse that I quoted above is the one designated for yesterday, December 18. Each verse of the hymn in some way speaks of the hope and promise of the Christian message. So it is that they invite us to discover how they speak to us in the time in which we live.
In this verse we recall God’s power and might as the great Lawgiver who has ordered and given life to us and all God’s creation. Still God comes to us shrouded in cloud, and majesty, and awe!
One of the lasting mysteries (and frustrations) of this pandemic is that we keep saying to ourselves and anyone who will listen, “This shouldn’t have happened to us! We are too advanced in our medical and public health knowledge to have let this happen to our (world) civilization. We thought we were smarter than this, didn’t we?”
God’s hope and promise in this verse is that God created order for the world and that as we learn it and follow it, we discover God’s way for our lives, our civilizations, and our purpose. We can always be learning more about the life that God is giving to us—even though some of it is yet hidden “in cloud, and mystery, and awe.”
The good news is that last week the vaccine arrived that we hope will get us out of the present pandemic! We continue learning more about God’s promises—even though it is sometimes though a vale of tears.
So, we sing this Advent season, “Rejoice, rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to you. O…(fill in your name, your family, your city, your state, your country, our world).”
You can find one rendition of the beautiful hymn below.
Let us pray...
Our God who is all powerful, Leader of the nations, who gave the law to Moses on Sinai’s height, thank you for rescuing us from this pandemic with your mighty power! Thank you for the healers, the comforters, and the life-givers among us who continue to discover the way you order the world and the way you desire for us to live with each other. Help us to grow in understanding, in being loving people, and in sharing your creation and life equitably with each other in the way Jesus showed us. Amen.
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Thanks, Keith. You have referenced one of my favorite Advent hymns. The phrase that caught my attention in this verse is, “. . . in ancient times you gave the law, in cloud, majesty, and awe.” I am recalling that Jesus sums up that law with “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” I find myself asking, “How are we doing these days with Jesus’ summation of the law?” Did it shape how we voted back in November? Is it shaping how we are behaving now in the midst of the pandemic? Will this law–loving God and neighbor–shape our behavior in the days ahead as the pandemic subsides? Good questions to ponder as this Advent season draws to a close, wouldn’t you say?
Thank you, Keith, for these words of longing and hope.