O Come, O Come, Emmanuel — Carols of Advent Hope

Scripture Focus: Hebrews 10:5-7
5 Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said:
“Sacrifice and offering you did not desire,
    but a body you prepared for me;
6 with burnt offerings and sin offerings
    you were not pleased.
7 Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll—
    I have come to do your will, my God.’”

Isaiah 7:14
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

Matthew 1:20-23
20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

Reflection: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel — Carols of Advent Hope
By Jon Polk

Somewhere across Italy in the 6th century, a series of Latin chants for the season of Advent began to take shape. By the 8th century, these chants, the “O Antiphons,” were being sung in monasteries and convents around the world.

For over twelve centuries, the seven “O Antiphons,” known also as the “Great Advent Antiphons” or more simply, the “Great Os,” have been sung or recited at vespers from December 17th through 23rd, preceding the “Magnificat of Mary” sung on Christmas Eve.

Around the 12th century, the chanted antiphons were converted into a metrical Latin poem bearing the title, “Veni, Veni, Emmanuel.” This hymn was discovered and translated into English by John Mason Neale in 1851, published in his Hymns Ancient and Modern as “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”

The original “O Antiphons” consist of seven passages focused on the meaning of the Incarnation. As might be expected from a series of monastic chants, the resulting hymn is theologically dense, each verse consisting of a Messianic title from scripture with additional explanation.

O Sapientia (Wisdom)
1 Cor. 1:24, “Christ… the wisdom of God”

O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
And order all things, far and nigh

O Adonai (Lord)
Ex. 3:15, “The LORD, the God of your fathers”

O come, Adonai, Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai’s height

O Radix Jesse (Root of Jesse)
Isa. 11:10, “the Root of Jesse will stand”

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny

O Clavis David (Key of David)
Isa. 22:22, “the key to the house of David”

O come, Thou Key of David, come
And open wide our heav’nly home

O Oriens (Dayspring)
Luke 1:78, “the dayspring from on high” (KJV)

O come, Thou Dayspring, from on high,
And cheer us by Thy drawing nigh

O Rex Gentium (King of the Nations)
Jer. 10:7, “King of the nations” 

O come, Desire of nations, bind
All peoples in one heart and mind

O Emmanuel (God with Us)
Isa. 7:14, “The virgin… will call him Immanuel.”

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel

The first letters of the titles in reverse is an acrostic of the Latin, “ero cras,” meaning “I will be there tomorrow,” a sentiment appropriate for Advent as we await the return of Christ.

Before we rush into the joyful exuberance of the Christmas season, distracted by parades, pageants, and presents, the calm and quiet “O Come, O Come” reminds us that all the trimmings and trappings of the season are temporary. Our true hope and longing is for another Kingdom where the coming Messiah King soothes our doubts, heals our afflictions, wipes our sorrowful tears, and rescues us from captivity to sin.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Listen: O Come, O Come Emmanuel by Sixpence None the Richer
Read: Lyrics from Hymnary.org

From John: I was excited to see Jon writing on the O Antiphons since I was only introduced to them last year when the church I attend used them as the focus of our Advent season. You can check out more info about them on our church’s website, including a video explaining their history, sermons from last year, and pictures of an art gallery focused on the O Antiphons. (You can even spot me and my wife, Melissa, looking at the art in the gallery.)

Divine Hours Prayer: The Small Verse
Keep me, Lord, as the apple of your eye and carry me under the shadow of your wings.

Today’s Readings
Daniel 12 (Listen 2:40)
Hebrews 10 (Listen 5:33)

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Read more about One Worth Rejoicing In
Leaders…shrivel before our eyes like a diseased root…but there is a leader coming, the “Root of David”, who will set all things right.

Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus — Carols of Advent Hope

Scripture Focus: Hebrews 9:14-15
14 How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!
15 For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.

Haggai 2:7
7 “I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,” says the Lord Almighty.

From John:
Jon Polk is kicking off our Advent devotionals this year with another music-focused week on the Carols of Advent. We are always thankful for Jon’s contributions, especially so in this format. We pray your Advent season is filled with hope, love, joy, and peace as we anticipate the celebration of Christmas.

Reflection: Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus — Carols of Advent Hope
By Jon Polk

With lyrics expressing profound longing and hope, there are few hymns more suited for the season of Advent than Charles Wesley’s “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus.”

Come, thou long expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in thee.

Charles Wesley, younger brother of prominent English preacher John Wesley, was a theologian in his own right and a remarkably prolific hymn writer, credited with the authorship of over 6000 songs. In 1744, “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus,” one of Wesley’s most enduring Christmas hymns, was first published in his Hymns for the Nativity of Our Lord, a small collection of only eighteen hymns that proved to be so popular, it was reprinted over twenty times in his lifetime.

Partially based on a previously written prayer, the lyrics were also inspired by Haggai 2:7, “what is desired by all nations will come.” Wesley was troubled by the poor living conditions of orphans in the city around him and the obvious class divisions in Great Britain at the time. The lyrics express a palpable sense of longing for deliverance, both physically and spiritually, for the oppressed. The long-awaited King of Israel would, in fact, be the hope of all the world.

Israel’s strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth thou art;
dear desire of every nation,
joy of every longing heart.

Wesley effectively utilizes the literary device of repetition to emphasize the aspects of Jesus’ mission as God’s Savior for a broken world. Each use of the word “born” adds layers to the hope we have in Jesus as our redeemer: born to set us free, born to deliver us, born as a King, and born to reign eternally.

Born thy people to deliver,
born a child and yet a King,
born to reign in us forever,
now thy gracious kingdom bring.

Absent from the hymn are references to any details of the Christ-child’s birth. No manger, angels, shepherds, or magi. Instead, the focus is on the mystery of the Incarnation, with lyrics suited for both reflecting back upon the birth of Jesus and looking ahead with hope towards his Second Coming.

By thine own eternal spirit
rule in all our hearts alone;
by thine all sufficient merit,
raise us to thy glorious throne.

Certainly, the season of Advent is a time of preparing our hearts and minds for celebrating the birth of Christ on Christmas day. More importantly, however, Advent is a time set aside on the Church calendar when we are reminded of our great hope that the child who was born a King will one day return to bring us into his gracious eternal Kingdom.

Listen:
Come Thou Long Expected Jesus by Sara Groves
Read: Lyrics from Hymnary.org

Divine Hours Prayer: The Cry of the Church
Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

Today’s Readings
Daniel 11(Listen 8:13)
Hebrews 9(Listen 4:40)

Read more about Deuteronomy’s Dream for the Poor“…there need be no poor people among you…he will richly bless you if only you fully obey the Lord your God”

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Being Anti-Antiochus

Scripture Focus: Daniel 8.12,25
12 Because of rebellion, the Lord’s people and the daily sacrifice were given over to it. It prospered in everything it did, and truth was thrown to the ground. 

25 He will cause deceit to prosper, and he will consider himself superior. When they feel secure, he will destroy many and take his stand against the Prince of princes. Yet he will be destroyed, but not by human power.

Reflection: Being Anti-Antiochus
By John Tillman

Scholars are not in serious doubt about the identity of Daniel’s “fierce-looking king,” the “master of intrigue” who will cause great devastation. This prophecy refers to Antiochus IV, who called himself Antiochus Epiphanes.

Antiochus claimed to be the “image” of Zeus, the highest Greek god—Zeus in the flesh. Ephiphanes means “God Manifest.” A common joke of the day changed a letter of his name making it “Epimanes,” meaning “madman.” However, this didn’t stop the destruction he caused and surviving his rule typically meant playing along.

As a power grab, Antiochus sought to give one religion, his religion, favored status. “God Manifest” wanted his image to be reverenced above all others. So, rather than allow people to worship as they wished, he desecrated the Temple in Jerusalem and erected an image of himself on its altar. The rebellion of the Jews that followed, their eventual victory, the reconsecration of the Temple, and Antiochus’s death of a wasting illness are all depicted in 1 Maccabees and are the subject of the celebration of Hannukah.

These are the events that Daniel’s vision directly refer to but, like many prophecies, these images give us a pattern of warning for the future. Jesus knew about historical Antiochus, yet he used Daniel’s vision as warning for the future. (Matthew 24.15-16) Antiochus is the model Jesus chose to warn about “Anti-Christs” and false messiahs to come.

One might think it would be foolish for a modern ruler to claim to be “God Manifest.” But that depends on what “god” people want to see manifested. Antiochus “manifested” Zeus, a despot and a philandering adulterer, who had children by many different women. Have we not seen and heard modern leaders manifesting this “image?” Have we not seen people of faith bending the knee to them? 

Perhaps few would dare to say, “I am the image of God on earth.” However, we have seen many leaders claim a metaphorical mantle of authority from God. Some leaders (like Esther) are chosen by God for such a time as this (Esther 4.14), but far more common are those twisting scripture and “throwing truth to the ground.”

We must take Jesus’ warning seriously. Antiochus-like leaders will come. We might not be able to stop them. But we mustn’t play along or follow them. May we be blessed with discernment and endurance for times of testing. We must be anti-Antiochus.

Music: “Hayo, Haya” Peter, Paul, and Mary

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Our sins are stronger than we are, but you will blot them out. — Psalm 65.3– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Daniel 8 (Listen 4:39)
Hebrews 6 (Listen 2:58)

This Weekend’s Readings
Daniel 9 (Listen 5:22) Hebrews 7 (Listen 4:01)
Daniel 10 (Listen 3:18) Hebrews 8 (Listen 2:22)

Read more about Facing a Biblical Disaster
Too many Christians follow political pundits more closely than Jesus Christ. Their spiritual diet depends more on news programs than Bible passages.

Read more about Peacefully Resisting Gog and Magog
The Gog and Magog that come against us today are not necessarily physical kingdoms.

White (Clerical) Collar Crimes

Scripture Focus: Daniel 6:3-4
3 Now Daniel so distinguished himself among the administrators and the satraps by his exceptional qualities that the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom. 4 At this, the administrators and the satraps tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so. They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent.

Reflection: White (Clerical) Collar Crimes
By Erin Newton

White collar crimes are depicted as less serious, less offensive than other crimes. Media attention tends to focus on violent crimes. Those accused of insider trading or insurance fraud are shrugged off as foolish, ambitious people. But does that mean those sins are any less offensive?

Daniel was a distinguished worker. His capabilities, skills, and wisdom set him apart from his peers. The text does not comment on his godliness or his outward religious actions. We understand that his faith was a driving factor in how he conducted business. But for his immediate supervisor, the king of Babylon, it was his business practices that stood out. Even in an ancient setting, work ethics were important.

The church has been just as guilty in the area of financial crimes as in the area of sexual abuse. Churches have been devastated when those who claimed to be doing the work of God were embezzling funds from the pool of tithes. Businesses that promote their religious affiliation with Christianity have committed fraud. Clerical collars have been soiled by white collar crime.

Like Daniel’s, our faith in God should guide our business practices. Faith should shape how we report our taxes. Faith should enforce our truthfulness in filing insurance claims. Faith should keep our hands out of the coffers.

Paul commended Titus to act as Daniel did:

In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us. (Titus 2:7-8)

As Christians, we expect to be admired for our charity and love. We set up memorials for Christians who served the poor or died for their faith. But how many do you know who are distinguished because they practice godly ethics at work? How many do we esteem for their truthfulness with the IRS or with loan departments?

White collar crimes are seen as soft crimes. They are assumed to be non-violent. They also feel safe. But they are still crimes. They still violate the command in Romans 13 to obey governing bodies. They always break the heart of God.

Our world sees white collar crimes as less offensive. But Christians should not be creating a business ethos according to what the world permits. Be set apart in how you file taxes and count every penny.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
With my whole heart I seek you; let me not stray from your commandments. — Psalm 119.10

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Daniel 6 (Listen 5:18)
Hebrews 3 (Listen 2:43)

Read more about Tendencies of Unfaithful Shepherds
Unfaithful shepherds place their own security and power before the health of the flock.

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Deceit Hardens Hearts

Scripture Focus: Hebrews 3.15-19
15 As has just been said:
“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts
as you did in the rebellion.”
16 Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? 17 And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies perished in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? 19 So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief. 

Reflection: Deceit Hardens Hearts
By John Tillman

The teacher of Hebrews repeats a warning twice in just a few verses: “If you hear his voice do not harden your hearts.” Why does the writer feel we need this message so deeply? Who was it that hardened their own hearts? It was not unbelievers or those who had never heard from God. It was God’s own people.

The teacher is quoting from Psalm 95, which references events in Deuteronomy. (Psalm 95; Deuteronomy 1.27-36) Those who hardened their hearts had been brought out of Egypt through miracles and victory. The elders had seen his physical presence and dined with God on Sinai. (Exodus 24.9-11) The people who rejected God were the ones God stayed with day and night as a pillar of fire that gave light at night and a pillar of cloud that gave guidance by day. (Deuteronomy 1.33)

We may think of non-believers as hardhearted and there may be a few hardhearted atheists or unbelievers in the world. The Pharoah they escaped is the biblical prototype of hardheartedness. (Choices and Hard Hearts) The teacher, however, is not writing to hardhearted unbelievers. The greater concern is that believers might have their hearts hardened by “sin’s deceitfulness.” (v 13). 

Sin hardens our hearts by deceit. That deceit is often about the character of God. The Israelites believed a lie and hardened their hearts out of fear of God’s treatment. “If we trust God, he’ll bring us harm.” (Deuteronomy 1.27)

Whatever sin you are tempted by, there is a lie about God’s character at its root. The more deeply we believe the lie, the harder our hearts can grow.
“If I follow God, I’ll never be happy.”
“If I follow God, I’ll never be fulfilled.”
“If I follow God, I’ll never be successful.”
“If I follow God, I’ll never be ________.”


What lie is in the blank for you?

The psalmist restates God’s decision to not allow the rebellious and hardhearted people into the promised land: “they shall never enter my rest.” (Psalm 95.11) The truth is: “If I don’t follow God, I’ll never find rest.” 

Sin’s deceit will leave us wandering in the desert of desire and want. God’s rest leads to well-being beyond any thing we fear the lack of. When we rest in God’s goodness and follow him, we’ll find greater things that God has in store for us.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
Out of Zion, perfect in its beauty, God reveals himself in glory. — Psalm 50.2

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Daniel 5(Listen 5:47)
Hebrews 3(Listen 2:25)

Read more about Weighed and Found Wanting
“Writing on the wall,” has become a worldwide idiom that shows up in countless cultural references…it comes from the Bible.

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