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Advent Reflection: O Come O Come Emmanuel

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
A reflection by Fr. JK Adams, S.J.
Gonzaga Prep Chaplain

Like all the other seasons of the Church year, Advent is filled with evocative sights and sounds. I can always tell that Advent has dawned at that first Sunday of the Church year when the altar adornments have changed from the summery green to the rich but more somber hues of violet, when that first candle in that fresh new wreath is lit, and when the choir begins to intone the minor-key hymn, O Come O Come Emmanuel.

They are sights and sounds that do not sidestep our intellect, but definitely dives through it – below the surface of our measly reason or our insufficient words (like the ones I am writing here). The Church has known for millennia how to get our hearts and spirits into the deep places of the soul.

Advent deepens with each passing day, each passing week. We light the second violet candle, and then the rose Gaudete candle. And the last movement of Advent begins at the dawn of the 17th of December. A different Preface begins to be prayed at mass and we begin what are known as the “O Antiphons.” This is where the lyrics of “O Come O Come Emmanuel” finds its roots. It is an invitation to join our ancestors in their long wait for the fulfilment of the ancient promises. Each verse of these antiphons and each of these final days before Christmas, we reflect on how our people have stood vigil, awaiting what that Bethlehem moment began.

During these sacred days we acknowledge what we await:

  • a source of true wisdom, not the “wisdom” of popular culture.
  • a giver of the true law of love, not the self-serving laws of the world.
  • a fulfillment of the messianic promises of old, not the false claims and arrogant promises of worldly pretenders.
  • a true king, not those with ultimately useless crowns and thrones of their own making
  • a true source of liberation – not just unlocking the chains that bind ankles and wrists (those too) – but those which more importantly bind minds and souls.
  • And a true source of radiant light and eternal light – God’s light – not the false shiny glitter and glamour of this passing world.
This Advent, like so many Advents before, we await the coming of a promised Kingdom, the coming of a promised liberation, the coming of a promised Messiah. And we wait together...

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.