“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”

First Lutheran Church

December 3, 2017 + Advent 1B


“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”


Today we begin the season of Advent, a season designed to help prepare us for Christmas, for the coming of Christ, for the reign of God’s Kingdom.  Advent is a season of hope, a season that shapes our hope, a season that helps us anticipate and recognize the coming of Christ, in the past, in the future and even now.


My text for today is the advent hymn "O come, O come Emmanuel.”  The text for that hymn has its origin in a 7th century liturgical prayer traditionally used in the season of Advent.  This prayer, known as "The Great O Antiphons,” helps us to focus in on "the one" that we have asked to be with us, "the one" for which we are preparing, Jesus the Christ.  


Join me as we sing together, as we pray together, the opening verse of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” …


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 you, O Israel.


Matthew 1:20-23


"The Angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.  All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: "Look the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel," which means, "God with us.”




The context of this great hymn is that of a people in captivity.  The hymn looks back and remembers the nation of Judah and the Babylonian Captivity.  A time when God's people had lost everything and had been carried off in chains to live in a foreign land.  


We too are captives in a foreign land.  As we live in this time of the emerging kingdom, we are forced to live in the tension of faith and sin, freedom and bondage, abundance and scarcity.  Our life seems to be caught up in both arenas.  We're forced to make tough choices, to live "in the world" but not be "of the world".  And it's hard.  We triumph and we stumble.  We cannot fully escape the consequences of our sin, and the sin that surrounds us.


Yet hope is alive.  The same hope that kept Judah alive in Babylon is alive and with us today.  Emmanuel, God with us.  God has chosen to be a God that is present.  And when God is present so is hope, all things remain possible.  Our God is not a god removed, sitting up in the heavens watching over us but a God incarnate, alive and walking with us.  This is the miracle, the story of Christmas.  God becomes human to be with us.  


And God is still incarnate with us today.  Together we are the body of Christ and in our gathering together, in our friendship and love, our strong arms, God is present.  God moves in our life, and in between the lines of our life.  Because of this kind of presence we are a people of hope.  Hope is our gift to each other as we bear witness to the transforming presence of Emmanuel.


Join me as we sing our next verse …


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.  

Rejoice!  Rejoice! Emmanuel, shall come to you, O Israel." 


Philippians 2:10-11


"And so, in honor of the name of Jesus all beings in heaven, on earth, and in the world below will fall on their knees, and will openly proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." 


“Lord of All”


Emmanuel is more than just a good friend with great listening skills, more than someone who just walks with you.  Before the world began Emmanuel was with God, was the same as God, Emmanuel was God.  This Word that became flesh created the heavens and earth.  Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the Lord of all.  


That same majesty and awe of God which led the Israelites out of Egypt in a pillar of smoke by day and a pillar of fire by night, that same God risked becoming a baby that you might know that you are loved.  And in being loved that you might be opened to the power of God.  With God's advent comes the power that we need to overcome our "present darkness" whatever that may be.  The God of all power and might loves us and wants to be a part of our life.  This is good news!  The Lord of all is with us.


We sing ….


O come, O branch of Jesse, free your own from Satan's tyranny; 

From depths of hell your people save and give them victory o'er the grave. 

Rejoice!  Rejoice! Emmanuel, shall come to you, O Israel." 


Isaiah 11:1


"The royal line of David is like a tree that has been cut down; but just as new branches sprout from a stump, so a new king will arise from among David's descendants." 


“The Stump of Jesse”


How many of you have heard of “the Jesse Tree?”  The Jesse Tree is an Advent Tree that is used by many churches in this Advent season to remind us of the Old Testament anticipation of the Messiah, the ancient dreams of salvation, the hope that one day humankind will be reconnected with God.  Each decoration placed on the Jesse Tree is a symbol either of an ancestor of Christ or of a prophecy foretelling Christ's coming. 


When I was campus pastor at Texas Lutheran University we had an incredible Jesse Tree.  It was essentially a giant mobile that hung from the rafters of the chapel, the decorations, the promisees of God floated above everybody’s heads as the hopes and dreams of Advent.


However my favorite part of this Jesse Tree was it’s base.  It sat on the floor, beneath all the floating decorations.  It was an old stump, a very dead stump, a seemingly lifeless stump.  Yet this is where it all begins, it all begins with the lifeless stump of Jesse.  Jesse was the father of King David, who is regarded as the first person in the genealogy of Jesus.  We are reminded that is is from this unlikely place that salvation begins.  We are reminded that God comes to us in unexpected ways.  We are reminded that what appears as dead and useless actually has roots that go deep, roots that will give birth to the stars in the sky, the hopes and dream of the Jesse Tree, the coming of Christ.  Just when the people of God were about to become hope-less a shoot appears from out of the stump, a child is born to a very humble couple who are spending the night in the stable, because there was no room in the inn.


As we ask God to come into our lives we must open up wide our eyes, our ears, and our minds; to be ready for the unexpected.  God is always present for us but we are not always open to that presence.  Do not dismiss the stumps that surround you, the stumps in your own life.  They may appear dead, useless, of no hope for life.  Yet they might be rooted in God and they just might be the places where God will emerge.  Even if we don't think it can happen.  God comes to us in unexpected ways.


We sign the next verse of our hymn, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” …


O come, O Dayspring, come and cheer; O sun of justice, now draw near  

Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death's dark shadows put to flight.  

Rejoice!  Rejoice! Emmanuel, shall come to you, O Israel." 


Luke 1:78-79


"Our God is merciful and tender.  God will cause the bright dawn of salvation to rise on us and to shine from heaven on all those who live in the dark shadow of death, to guide our steps into the path of peace.


“The Day of Salvation”


When God comes into our life it is like a brand new day.  God does not come into our lives to haunt us with yesterdays mistakes. to remind us that we have failed, nor to seek the vengeance of some angry God.  God comes into our life with a love and forgiveness that creates new beginnings.  


When God comes into our life we cannot remain static, things begin to happen.  We are no longer bound to "the way things are,” past mistakes, yesterdays assumptions and expectations.  With God's advent we are suddenly "born again,” "all things are suddenly and wonderfully new.”  It's a new day, the gloomy clouds of a stormy night give way to the morning light of God's love.


Oh come, O Key of David, come, And open wide our heavenly home; 

Make safe the way that leads on high, And close the path to misery. 

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel, Shall come to you, O Israel." 


Revelation 3:7-8


"To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: "This is the message from the one who is holy and true.  He has the key that belonged to David, and when he opens a door, no one can close it, and when he closes it, no one can open it.  I know what you do; I know that you have a little power; you have followed my teaching and have been faithful to me.  I have opened a door in front of you, which no one can close." 


“The Key of David”


I can't keep track of my keys for more than four or five days in a row.  Someone seems to be following me around and hiding them so I can't find them.  And life without your keys can be a hassle.  I've been locked out of the house, locked out of my office, trapped places with a car that can't be unlocked or started.  Without my keys I'm useless, I have limited access, I'm stuck.


To have a key is to have power.  And the most powerful key of them all belongs to Jesus.  Jesus is the key to life, to abundant life, meaningful life, and everlasting life.  God's advent into "our space" opens the door to "our life.”  God opens the door of forgiveness that sets us free from sin.  God opens the door of peace that gives us a new orientation and the freedom to walk new paths that will lead us to meaningful life.


We all have been locked out, trapped in dead ends.  Yet the one who comes at Christmas has a key that will unlock these doors and give us new direction.  God has opened the door for all of us through Jesus Christ.




Advent is the season in which we prepare for God's coming into our own life and the world that surrounds us.  This preparation calls us to take a second look at our life and it challenges us to open up our life to new possibilities of God's presence.  This is not always easy work.  Yet the hard work of Advent is made easier by the incredible hope of Advent.  You see, we all want the locked doors of our life opened up, we all want the gloomy clouds that surround us to disappear, We want new life, we want a real power that will last, and we want to be with God.   The good news that produces hope is that the God present and the God ever coming to us is the Key of David, Dayspring, the branch from the stump of Jesse, the great Lord of might, Emmanuel.


Let us all sing together the first verse of, "Oh come, oh come Emmanuel" as we rejoice in that ever present and coming hope fulfilled on Christmas. … 


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 you, O Israel.