O Emmanuel, king and lawgiver, desire of the nations, Savior of all people, come and set us free, Lord our God.
Anybody remember Animaniacs, that cartoon that was on in the 90s? I was a big fan and still sometimes get lines from the show stuck in my head. I vividly remember watching one episode in particular (the episode itself I can barely recall, but I remember the experience of watching it). It involved an Indiana Jones-style quest to find the meaning of life. I couldn’t have been more than ten years old, but I remember knowing even then that this was the question. I sat riveted to the screen, convinced that at the end of the show, I was going to know what the meaning of life was. When they got to the end and couldn’t find the answer (or whatever happened), I was furious. My little agnostic self was desperate, even at ten, to know the meaning of life. I understood that if there wasn’t some objective answer to the question our existence poses, the whole thing was futile.
In retrospect, I suppose I’m glad that they didn’t give an answer. I was so hungry for truth, I’m sure I would have taken whatever nonsense Warner Brothers came up with as Gospel. My ten-year-old heart knew that there had to be something more than the mundane experience of life that seemed universal. Like everyone, I wanted to know that I mattered, that there was some purpose to my life, that there was some objective morality, and that ultimately–eternally–I could be happy.
This is a yearning common to all humanity. We see it reflected in the desperate attempt to capture beauty on canvas or pedestal. We find it in the longing for romantic love and the music that glorifies it. We recognize it in the adolescent need either to stand out or to blend in, the hunger for success, the human tendency toward self-obsession; even the rampant materialism the permeates our society shows that we’re empty and we know it. We are driven to find meaning and purpose, to be accepted, to be seen and known and loved just as we are. That is the desire of every human heart.
And in just three days, the Desired of all nations will come. God with us, our Creator who is the way, the truth, and the life.1 The divine lawgiver who shows us what it means to love God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind and our neighbor as ourselves.2 Christ our brother who makes us more than family.3 The Divine Word who knows everything we’ve ever done,4 never condemning but encouraging us to sin no more.5 Love incarnate who, in spite of everything, loves us as his Father loves him.6 The Son of God who will welcome us on the last day into the joy prepared for us from the foundation of the world.7
Blessed John Paul the Great puts it so simply: “Jesus Christ is the answer to the question posed by every human life.”8 When you gorge yourself on comfort food, it is because you hunger for the Bread that satisfies. When you look desperately and indiscriminately for your next romantic relationship, you are seeking One who will complete you. Your drive to do better and be greater comes from the fact that you were made to be perfect and you long to hear him say, “Well done.” When you feel alone or abused or unloved or vulnerable it’s because your identity rests in yourself or others, not, as it should, in Him. Your heart is restless until it rests in Him.
From heaven he called and shouted, sending patriarchs, prophets, and psalmists, but his children–who were looking for him in every brothel or pagan temple or market–couldn’t hear his love thundering through creation. Since the dances of the stars weren’t enough, he sent one star. Since his words of love weren’t enough, he sent one Word.
And on that barren night in Bethlehem, the long-awaited Messiah came quietly into the world to whisper what he had been shouting since the earth was a formless wasteland:
Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest9 because I love you.10 I do not condemn you11 but I have come that you might have life and have it to the full.12 I have told you this that my joy might be in you and your joy might be complete.13 And take heart,14 for no one will take your joy from you.15 I give you my peace.16 Do not worry,17 I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you18 for you are precious.19 Keep my commandments20 and abide in my love21 and I will come back for you so that you may always be with me.22
Everything you’ve ever wanted will be laid in a manger on Monday night. Every longing of your heart is drawing you to Jesus. Your soul wants to belong to the One by whom and for whom it was made. Let your restless heart be captivated by the newborn King who brings the meaning it craves. The Desired of nations, the meaning of life: Emmanuel, God with us. Maranatha.
Oh, come, oh, 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!
Things I have learned from this series:
- I’m not so great at praying when I’m praying, but I’m pretty good at praying when I’m writing or talking. My meditations on these antiphons were awfully shallow in the chapel, but I think I really like how they turned out here.
- I’m incapable of mediocrity. Okay, I guess I’m mediocre in a lot of areas. But when I know I can do something well, I will do it well, even when it means sacrificing a lot of other things. I thought I could just throw things together and post them but I spent hours on each one of these–as usual.
- The absolute hardest part of blogging is finding good pictures to break up the text.
- I could have written half a dozen posts on each antiphon–there’s so much in there!
- I will never again (barring a direct command from God) commit to seven posts in seven days when I only have two free hours a day anyway!!!
- Jn 14:6 [↩]
- Mk 12:30-31. [↩]
- Jn 13:34 [↩]
- Jn 4:39 [↩]
- Jn 8:11 [↩]
- Jn 15:9 [↩]
- Mt 25:21, 34 [↩]
- Or, in greater detail, “It is Jesus that you seek when you dream of happiness; He is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you; He is the beauty to which you are so attracted; it is He who provoked you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise; it is He who urges you to shed the masks of a false life; it is He who reads in your heart your most genuine choices, the choices that others try to stifle. It is Jesus who stirs in you the desire to do something great with your lives, the will to follow an ideal, the refusal to allow yourselves to be ground down by mediocrity, the courage to commit yourselves humbly and patiently to improving yourselves and society, making the world more human and more fraternal.” [↩]
- Mt 11:28 [↩]
- Jn 15:9 [↩]
- Jn 8:11 [↩]
- Jn 10:10 [↩]
- Jn 15:11 [↩]
- Jn 16:33 [↩]
- Jn 16:22 [↩]
- Jn 14:27 [↩]
- Lk 11:29 [↩]
- Jn 14:18 [↩]
- Lk 12:7 [↩]
- Jn 14:15 [↩]
- Jn 15:9 [↩]
- Jn 14:3 [↩]