December 23: O Emmanuel

O Emmanuel, rex et legifer noster, exspectatio gentium et salvator earum: veni ad salvandum nos, Domine Deus noster. 

O Emmanuel, our king and lawgiver, the longing of nations and their redeemer: come to save us, Lord our God.

O God with us, 

our sovereign desire, 

our redemption, 

how I long for you! 


be forever 

our beyond 

even in the midst of life. 

December 23, and the last of the seven antiphons. Our desire, our redemption will soon “materialize.” The retail industry, on the other hand, reports that their hopes are not materializing since consumers have failed to meet the expectation of the industry.

What happens, then, when one crisscrosses the production of desire in the O-Antiphons with the productions of Bed Bath & Beyond? On the surface, they both seem to speak of desire, linked to a “beyond.” But other than that, there is nothing more than an “open mesh of possibilities, gaps, overlaps, dissonances and resonances, lapses and excesses of meaning.” Maybe this is precisely the point, however. Against a homogenized version of Christmas, this crisscrossing reveals a profound dissonance that itself is a clue to what Christmas is about: the defining moment two thousand years ago when the separate identities of human and divine, heaven and earth, became one. Christmas, in other words, spells dissonance: the holy and the human, God and materiality, the O-Antiphons and Bed Bath & Beyond. It is time to acknowledge afresh the complexity of that dissonance—and what its dissolution might mean. At Bethlehem, God became material reality, the ultimate beyond in the midst of our life. Ever since then, our faith cannot but include all material realities, its beds, baths, and minor “beyonds.” But Bethlehem is not only about embracing material realities. It also sharpens our eyes to see the exclusions produced by our world. Many human beings, after all, continue to live without either “bed” or “bath.” So did God. God’s bed, after all, ended up being a trough. Ultimate dissonance is the heart of Christmas. If crisscrossing the O-Antiphons with Bed Bath & Beyond reveals this dissonance, it accomplishes much.

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