First things first; we are not late. Yes, I know that, traditionally, the seventh antiphon is prayed on December 23 and that you are not reading this until the 29th (at the earliest), but does that delay hold any real significance? Absolutely not. Yes, the first antiphon, O Wisdom, is meant to be prayed on December 17; and then, each day leading up to Christmas, we are to add another antiphon until we reach Christmas Eve where we pray the last antiphon, O Emmanuel. But tradition is not law. In fact, praying this last antiphon during the week of Christmas makes good sense to me and for three really good reasons. First, the rush leading up to Christmas leaves little time for true contemplation. But then, Christmas is over and we have a short lull before we start to ramp up for New Year’s, a lull that allows us some time to reflect. Focusing on this antiphon during that lull makes good spiritual sense. Second, some people get it right. They don’t have a birthDAY, they have a birthWEEK where the whole week is devoted to celebrating their birth (which is a great idea). Birthweeks are to birthdays as winning the World Series is to winning a regular ol’ ballgame or as getting married is to going on a date. It is so much better. Let’s be honest, Christmas is simply too large to contain in one single day. That’s why we need to celebrate Chrismas-week and not just Christmas Day. And if discussing the seventh antiphon the week after Christmas helps us move in that direction, then I have done my part. Third, we are now in the midst of the Twelve Days of Christmas. That’s right! The twelve days of Christmas start with Christmas Day and extend to January 5 (the day before Epiphany). Or, to say it in a way that will make sense to you, my true love gave me a partridge in a pear tree on Christmas Day and twelve drummers do their drumming on January 5. Now, I realize that this is contrary to the common belief that the twelve days lead up to Christmas, but the common belief is as wrong as thinking that Hawaii is in the Gulf of Mexico. Now, our tradition tells us Epiphany is on January 6th and that Epiphany marks the end of Christmas celebrations. And that means two things. First, Christmas is still going on. And second, since we are smack-dab in the middle of the Twelve Days, it is time to replace those five golden rings with our last antiphon. Sing it with me; “seven O antiphons” four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree!” Now, you may protest, but it is our tradition; and tradition, as we all know, is law.    

The seventh antiphon reads:

O Emmanuel, our King and our Law-giver,
The hope of the nations and their savior.
Come and save us, O Lord our God!

I love a prayer that is saturated in the Bible and in a rich theology. In Matthew 1, we read these familiar words (vs. 22-23):

“All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:
‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son,
and they will call him Immanuel’
(which means ‘God with us’).”

But that is hardly the first time the promise is given that God is with us. It is understood as the cornerstone of the tripartite promise of God (“I will be your God; you shall be my people, and I will dwell in your midst”). It is embedded in the promise of the New Covenant:

“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
    after that time,” declares the Lord.
I will be their God,
    and they will be my people.”
                                            (Jer. 31:33)

This promise is also found in Ezekiel’s New Covenant prophecies:

“I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant.
I will establish them and increase their numbers,
and I will put my sanctuary among them forever.
My dwelling place will be with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people.”
(Ezek. 37:26-27)

And this promise is reaffirmed in Paul:

“We are the temple of the living God. As God has said:
‘I will live with them and walk among them,
and I will be their God,
and they will be my people.’”
(2 Cor. 6:16)

But I think the promise to be with us that has the greatest emotional power is from Isaiah 43 (1-3):

“But now, this is what the Lord says—
    he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel:
‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
    I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
    I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
    they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
    you will not be burned;
    the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.’”

This is the God to whom we pray in this seventh antiphon. He is our Immanuel. And he is with us in every situation because he is our God and we are his people.  

And God is with us to lead us as our King and as our Law-giver because he is the way, the truth and the life.  And he is with us because he is our hope for he brings salvation to the ends of the earth. To me, Christmas would not be Christmas without the gospel of Isaiah. Look at these amazing words when the Father speaks to the Son about his mission on earth: 

“And now the Lord says—
    he who formed me in the womb to be his servant
to bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself,
for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord and my God has been my strength—
he says:
‘It is too small a thing for you to be my servant
    to restore the tribes of Jacob
    and bring back those of Israel I have kept.
I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,
    that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.’”
                                                 (Isaiah 49:5-6)

Don’t miss this. That’s us he is talking about! Our God is our Immanuel and the hope of the nations.  And so, we cry out to our only Savior: “Come and save us, O Lord our God!”

Now, if you were a little concerned that the prayer is directed to our King and Law-giver and not to the God of all grace, you might now see where you went askew. God with us is grace. God reigning as our King is grace. God giving us his Law to lead us into his truth is grace. God being the hope of all the nations (and not just Israel) is grace. God being our Savior is grace. Praying that God will come and save us is grace. That God is the Lord our God is grace. The whole prayer is saturated to overflowing with grace. And our ability to pray this prayer and respond to it accordingly is an act of God’s grace. The antiphons are prayers of grace from start to finish because Christmas is God’s grace coming to earth incarnated in the person of Jesus the Messiah who is our wisdom, our Lord, our promised root of Jesse, our key of David, our light and dayspring, our king and our Immanuel.  

I love this quote from DA Carson: 

“If God had perceived that our greatest need was economic,
he would have sent an economist.
If he had perceived that our greatest need was entertainment,
he would have sent us a comedian or an artist.
If God had perceived that our greatest need was political stability,
he would have sent us a politician.
If he had perceived that our greatest need was health,
he would have sent us a doctor.
But he perceived that our greatest need involved our sin,
our alienation from him, our profound rebellion, our death;
and he sent us a Savior.”

That is why we celebrate Christmas by praying through these seven prayers, prayers that culminate in this one great request:

O Emmanuel, our King and our Law-giver,
The hope of the nations and their savior.
Come and save us, O Lord our God!

And that is why we celebrate Christmas by singing, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, and do so now (hopefully) with even more understanding and appreciation. Sing it with me:

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.

O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
Who ordered 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 come, Adonai, 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 come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory o’er the grave.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

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 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 thee, O Israel.

O 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.

And so, to you, my good friends, I wish you a very Merry Christmas-week! May God’s grace, peace and joy fill you with hope in Christ Jesus, our King and our Immanuel!