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Advent 2023 Devotional Week 1 - By Erin Bowman

Introdution: The Meaning Of Advent

The word “advent” means “coming.” This season focuses us upon the birth of Jesus as the Christ (his first advent) and his return as King (his second advent). During this season we emphasize God’s just judgment on sin and His faithfulness in sending His Son to give us eternal life. There is a spirit of longing, preparation, anticipation and joy. Our prayer is for all to experience the fullness of the Advent season while enriching our relationship with God and one another

Introduction To The First Week's Hymn:
"O Come O Come Emmanuel"

“O Come O Come Emmanuel” is one of the most hauntingly beautiful hymns within the church canon. As one of only a few hymns written in a minor key, it has a tone of sadness and longing that stands in stark contrast to the frenzied “joy” of the Christmas season we see in commercial America. When sung by itself, the melody almost seems to create space and a sense of waiting within a season of hurry.

The words of this hymn are credited to Fr. John Mason Neale (1818-1866), an ordained Anglican priest, who’s poor health made it impossible for him to lead a traditional parish ministry. Instead he focused on scholarly work and social justice. He helped establish the Sisterhood of St. Margaret, a nursing order created to care for the poor and ill in the Sussex countryside. The sisterhood grew and established houses in multiple locations, continuing their good work today both in New England and Haiti.

Fr. Neale was a prolific hymn writer, but he also loved the Greek and Latin hymns that made up the ancient hymn catalogue. In his “English Hymnology: Its History and Prospects,” he lamented the fact that the Reformation brought about the use of the English language in the daily life of the church because it rendered this prior hymn catalogue completely unusable. He took it upon himself to translate many of these ancient hymns from their original Latin and Greek, and it is from these efforts that we get “O Come O Come Emmanuel.”

The original Latin text was part of the O Antiphons, which were read at Vespers or the evening prayer service during the 7 days leading up to Christmas Eve (Dec. 17-23). The exact origin of these antiphons is unknown, but there are references suggesting that they may have been in existence as early as the sixth century. Fr. Neale was such a skilled scholar and translator that his English translation of the original Latin kept the same poetic meter, or number of syllables and timing of the stressed syllables, allowing our current hymn to be sung in either English or Latin.

The music for this hymn is also historic. It is credited to Fr. Thomas Helmore, who was also an ordained Anglican priest and choirmaster during a time in the church when there was a growing interest in plainsong or chanting of the liturgies. He and Fr. Neale collaborated on works. Fr. Neale translated hymns or wrote completely new ones. Fr. Helmore set these to music, either inspired by old manuscripts or with new settings reminiscent of the ancient. Fr. Helmore credits the melody of “O Come O Come Emmanuel” to an old French Missal. At the time, there was speculation that Fr. Helmore had penned the melody himself as no one could corroborate the origin of the music. However, it was later found in a 15th century manuscript as part of a group of chants for a funeral procession.

If this hymn seems to be different than much of what we sing today, if it seems to transport you to a different time, perhaps it is because it truly came from a different time. As you sing this hymn, feel the history and the connection to other Christians through the centuries who have also sung “O Come O Come Emmanuel” in the days leading up to Christmas.

Daily Reflections


O come O come EmmanuelAnd ransom captive IsraelThat mourns in lonely exile hereUntil the Son of God appear

The combination of the words and the melody at the opening of this hymn conveys such a deep longing that few other hymns come close to. After spending 400 years as slaves in Egypt, the people of Israel were forged through the Exodus when they wandered 40 years in the desert. This shared experience helped form their cultural identity as a people chosen by God.

After reaching the promised land, they enjoyed several hundred years of peace and self-rule until the Assyrians took them into captivity in the eighth century BC, beginning a period of several hundred years of control by one empire after another. For a people who still remembered their Egyptian captivity, this period of being ruled by others was almost unbearable. Yet God did not leave them without hope.

In the book of Isaiah, the prophet discusses the Assyrian captivity and foretells not just the impending Babylonian captivity, but also God’s eventual redemption and rescue. However, the redemption Isaiah spoke of did not come right away. There were 400 years of complete silence between the OT prophets and the fulfillment of the prophecies in Jesus, who is Emmanuel.

In those 400 years of waiting, it wouldn’t be difficult to imagine that some Israelites forgot God’s promise to send a savior. Others probably felt like it was such a distant promise that the likelihood of it being fulfilled during their lifetime was inconceivably small, and they may have spoken of it almost as fable rather than a prophecy.

We too are waiting. We live in the time between Christ’s first Advent, or coming, and the time of his triumphant return. How many of us have forgotten and treat the promise of his return as story instead of reality, with little possibility of it happening within our lifetime? How many of us have even forgotten the reality of his first coming and are living held captive by things own our lives? While we as a people are not under the rule of a foreign empire, so many things in our lives can still hold us captive: our schedules, ambitions, finances, and much more can become oppressive. But we, unlike “captive Israel,” have already received our savior and no longer have to live in captivity.

Today, consider the reality of the savior’s birth and when you sing “O come O come Emmanuel” be confident that these lyrics can be sung with joyful and sincere expectation of his second coming. Remember that he came so you no longer have to be held captive, but can live in the reality of his birth. Take a moment right now and think about what is holding you captive. Prayerfully hand this to him today and invite him to release you from that captivity.


O come Thou Dayspring come and cheerOur spirits by Thine advent hereDisperse the gloomy clouds of nightAnd death's dark shadows put to flight

Have you ever heard someone singing a song when they clearly didn’t know the lyrics? They seem completely unashamed as they belt the wrong words because they haven’t ever stopped to consider what the words mean. My father used to sing: “Picked a fine time to leave me Lucille. Four hundred children and a crop in the fields.” Clearly, he wasn’t listening to what he was singing and considering the reality of what 400 children would look like!

I would argue that many of us are guilty of not thinking about what we are singing, especially with some of the older hymns. Have you ever stopped to consider what “Dayspring” means? If you are like many, you probably just gloss over the word because it is part of a favorite carol, but when we understand the meaning, this verse becomes incredibly powerful.

Dayspring is an archaic word referring to the literal dawn. In Luke 1:68-79, after regaining his ability to speak, Zechariah begins to prophesy. He says “whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” He speaks here not of the literal sunrise, but of the Messiah who is the “Dayspring,” and will bring light to all.

With the birth of Messiah, a people who had been in captivity were given a hope for freedom. While the Israelites were yearning for physical freedom and focused on their physical captivity, Jesus came to bring spiritual freedom. He came to “Disperse the gloomy clouds of night.” In scripture, these “clouds of night” represent judgement, doom, or places where God’s people are lost.

Advent is a time of increased busyness for many. It can be a time of increased pressure to meet work deadlines, obligations with friends and family, huge gift lists and the worry associated with the financial implications of buying those gifts. These pressures can bring judgement, feelings of doom and a sense of being lost. Ironically, Jesus did not come to increase the gloomy clouds of night as so often happens during this season, but to disperse them.

As you consider this verse today, take a 5-minute break from the pressures of the season and consider the clouds of night that Jesus has the power to disperse. Consider what it means for you today, right here and now, that he put death to flight. Allow the reality of Jesus’ Advent to sink in. He came to disperse the things which hold us captive, judge us, or bring us doom. How can this knowledge bring sunlight to areas of gloom and bring the cheer that the Dayspring was meant to bring?


O come Thou Wisdom from on highAnd order all things far and nighTo us the path of knowledge showAnd cause us in her ways to go

In Scripture, Wisdom is personified in numerous places as a woman who leads people in God’s ways. In Proverbs 1:20-33, we read about the cry of Wisdom as she pleads with people who “hated knowledge.” In proverbs 3:13-20, we see how blessed is the one who finds Wisdom. This speaks of her great value. Take a minute to read Proverbs 8 where wisdom and knowledge are prized over even silver and gold.

Proverbs 8:27 states: “When he established the heavens, I (Wisdom) was there; …” and the following verses discuss the acts of creation. Chapter 8 concludes with “For whoever finds me finds life and obtains favor from the Lord, but he who fails to find me injures himself; all who hate me love death” (8:35-36). For many Christians, these words sound familiar.

The Gospel of John opens with: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him…” (1:1-3). Through careful study of scripture too extensive to cover here, it becomes apparent that Jesus is the New Testament embodiment of Old Testament Wisdom.

Now read this verse again: O come Thou Wisdom from on high, and order all things far and nigh. Now that we know that Wisdom/Jesus was present during the very creation of the universe, when we call upon that same Wisdom to order all things, it brings a much larger perspective. It is not just right from wrong that Wisdom is being asked to order, but all of creation.

Isn’t that what Christ came to do? Didn’t he come not just to release the Israelites from captivity, but to release all of humankind from their captivity? Didn’t he come to bring about God’s rule and reign on earth as it was meant to be before the fall? Did he not come to “order all things” and “to us the path of knowledge show?”

Jesus came to order our lives. How many of us feel like Advent brings chaos instead of order? Why does the season of preparation for the savior’s birth bring exactly the opposite of what he came for? As you consider this verse, think of one way you can allow the birth of the savior to better order your life. Perhaps he is gently asking for an adjustment in your priorities. Maybe he is asking you to say no to an event, even though you don’t have a conflict, so you can allow the space for him to work in your life during this season. Maybe he is directing you to start a conversation with your family about one way you can show his love to others during this season? Today, give him the freedom to begin to order your life and show you the path of knowledge.


O come Desire of nations bind,

All peoples in one heart and mind

Bid envy strife and quarrels cease

Fill the whole world with heaven's peace

The phrase “Desire of nations” comes from the King James version of Haggai: “And I will shake all nations and the desire of all nations shall come: and I will fill this house with glory, saith the Lord of hosts” (2:7).

When read in context, “desire of nations” is referring to physical treasure like gold, silver and other riches. In fact, many translations use the phrase “treasure of nations” rather than “desire of nations.” But in this hymn, the author uses “Desire of nations” to refer to Messiah who comes not to bring physical treasure, but the deeper treasure of peace.

It is an interesting flip to take a phrase from scripture originally intended to convey something of great value and change the meaning to describe a gift of even greater worth in Messiah. Read the rest of the verse from the hymn. If he came to bring people together into one heart and mind, bring about an end to strife and quarrels, and fill the world with peace, isn’t that a greater gift than anything we could ask for?

And yet, if we are being honest, doesn’t Advent seem like a season that brings about an increase in strife? Doesn’t the hectic pace of the world, made even crazier by the extra “to do’s” of the season, increase tempers, which then leads to increased quarrels? It makes me wonder if we have made a flip opposite of that which the hymn writer made. Have we taken a season intended to prepare us for the greatest gift we could have been given in Messiah and “flipped” it into a season of preparing for physical treasure in the form of gifts?

When we perform this mental flip and substitute physical treasure for Messiah, it can bring about increased dissension, quarreling, and a complete lack of peace. Today, as you consider this verse, think about one thing you can do to focus on the peace Jesus came to bring. Perhaps it is reaching out to a friend or family member who you need to mend a relationship with. Maybe it is offering your place in line to a person who seems like they are having a bad day or maybe offering encouraging words and a smile to the cashier who has just helped that someone who is having a bad day.  Allow the thought that he came to bring heaven’s peace guide you today.


Rejoice, Rejoice, Emmanuel

Shall come to thee oh Israel

Rejoice! The command to rejoice is seen throughout scripture. In Zephaniah 3:14 the Israelites are commanded to “Rejoice and exult with all your heart…. The Lord has taken away the judgements against you; he has cleared away your enemies.” In Zachariah 9:9, there is a command to “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion…. Behold, your king is coming to you.” In these prophetic passages, the cause for rejoicing has not yet come. Instead, the people are called to rejoice in the promise of what God will bring.

Even within our modern context, we can conceive of rejoicing over the promise of something that has yet to be fulfilled. When we have a verbal job offer, we might celebrate. If we are planning on spending time with someone we care about, we might happily anticipate that time. But how many of us could truly rejoice over an offer that had no start date attached to it or celebrate the promise of spending time with someone we care about at some unspecified time in the near or distant future? When the cause for rejoicing is concrete and foreseeable, we can rejoice over future good, but when it is distant or intangible, it is much more difficult to rejoice.

If we want to fully rejoice during this season, we must first understand that the promises of God have never been broken. Too many of us have experienced so many unfulfilled promises that we don’t take anything seriously unless it is contractually binding, and even then we might be hesitant to fully rejoice until the deal is done and can’t be undone. But God stands outside of time. When he makes a promise, it is as if the deal is already done and cannot be undone. His trustworthiness is beyond what we can comprehend, and when we can trust, we can rest in His promises.

We also must learn that God’s promises are meant for our eternal good, not just our current good. When we are in the midst of our circumstances, it can be hard to see beyond them and comprehend how our present suffering or joy might be shaping us for our own good. Much as our children don’t understand how their bedtime is not meant as a punishment, but as a way to protect their mood, ability to learn, and energy levels for the following day, we often have too narrow an understanding of how God is shaping us daily.

Today, consider that we are commanded to rejoice over our Savior’s birth and the promise of His second coming just as the Israelites were commanded to rejoice over yet to be fulfilled prophecies. Spend some time today learning to rejoice by making a list of the ways he has cared for you over this past year. Give him thanks for the ways he has taken care of you, and as you feel led, rejoice over the things you can truly feel joy over. Make a note of the things you are now able to rejoice over that at the time may have been difficult or painful. Ask yourself if this practice helps you to rejoice over something differently today.

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