SERMON TITLE: O Come, O Come Emmanuel
TEXT: Philippians 4:4 (ESV)
SPEAKER: Josh Hanson
It’s good to be with all of you this weekend at Gateway Church. And one thing I want you to know — and it doesn’t matter if it’s your first time with us or if you’re worshipping at our North Main campus — is that God loves you and I love you too.
And this Christmas season we’re taking a few Christmas carols and letting them be our guide as we head toward Christmas Day. And Christmas can be a season where our lives get super busy and it’s easy to miss the beauty of this season — the season of Advent.
So — to help us all slow down and reflect on this important season of our faith — we've created these cards as a free resource to help you walk through the weekly themes of Advent. On the front is a piece of original artwork that corresponds with the sermon being preached that week. And on the back you’ll find various resources you can use to help focus on the coming of Jesus this Advent season. We hope this resource will be a blessing to you.
And the Christmas carol we’re using as our guide today is “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” Now — if you know the carol — you know that there’s a word repeated again and again — and that word is “rejoice.” “Rejoice, rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee O Israel.”
Rejoice — have joy — why? Because Emmanuel is coming. “God with us” is coming. The Savior is coming. A reason to rejoice — like nothing else — Jesus is coming. That’s what we’re going to look at today.
And I love the word joy. It’s my wife’s middle name. We like the word so much that it’s our daughter’s middle name as well. And as I’ve shared before, my life mission statement is to “glorify God by making disciples who find their joy in Jesus.” And that’s really key — that our joy — for it to have any lasting value — our joy must be in Jesus.
And it seems like everything is against our joy being in Jesus — even as we head towards the Christmas holiday — which is kind of crazy when you think about it. The holiday where we celebrate — when we sing “rejoice, rejoice” — the holiday when we celebrate that our Savior is born — has become the holiday where so many people try to find their joy in anything other than the child born to save them.
But today — and hopefully for the rest of our days — I want us to look to the joy that only Jesus provides. Because He offers all of us everlasting joy — a true reason to rejoice this Christmas — and always.
So let’s turn to our passage for today.
ANNOUNCE THE TEXT
If you have your Bible please turn with me to Philippians chapter 4. We’ll be looking at one verse — verse 4 — which I know sounds crazy if you’re a regular here at Gateway — only one verse — is Josh feeling OK this week? I’m feeling great — so go ahead and find Philippians chapter 4 verse 4 — but know that we’ll be taking a look at a few other verses before we get there.
And, if you’re a guest with us, something we like to do at Gateway is let you ask questions. So if you have a question during the sermon, you can text it in to the number printed on the bottom of the sermon notes sheet or you can submit it on the Gateway app.
RE-ANNOUNCE AND READ THE TEXT
Here are the words found in Philippians chapter 4 verse 4.
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4 ESV)
Since “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” is setting our theme for today — like in previous weeks — I thought it’d be helpful to learn a little about the carol and how it connects to the birth of Jesus and our theme of joy. So — for starters — here’s something wild about our carol: We have no idea when it was written or first sung — isn’t that crazy? This carol just kind of slow fades into history.
We can tell that the words were being sung by the 9th century — but there are some who think the words in our carol go back as far as the 6th century. So this is an old, old song we sing each Christmas.
The words were originally in Latin and were used by monks. They were originally part of a 7-verse antiphon series used for Advent. “Well don’t you sound all fancy, Pastor Josh” — what does that mean? An antiphon was a small verse chanted or sung. So think of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” — as originally being part of a medley of chants — used by monks — and they sang one chant — or one verse — per day during the week leading up to Christmas Eve. (Frank Colquhoun, Hymns That Live: Their Meaning & Message (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 1981), 17–24; Ian C. Bradley, ed., The Book of Hymns (Woodstock, N.Y: Overlook Press, 1989), 305–7.)
Now each verse centered on a title of Christ that comes from the Old Testament — and there’s deep theology in these words — which I really appreciate. Here are the verses of the medley that eventually became the carol we sing today. Each verse starts with an “O” which was meant to convey a longing for Christ to come. (http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/prayers-and-devotions/prayers/the-o-antiphons-of-advent.cfm)
Verse 1 — O Wisdom of our God Most High, guiding creation with power and love: come to teach us the path of knowledge!
Verse 2 — O Adonai — meaning O Leader — of the House of Israel, giver of the Law to Moses on Sinai: come to rescue us with your mighty power!
Verse 3 — O Root of Jesse’s stem, sign of God’s love for all his people: come to save us without delay!
Verse 4 — O Key of David, open the gates of God’s eternal Kingdom: come and free the prisoners of darkness!
Verse 5 — O Radiant Dawn — or O Dayspring — or O Bright and Morning Star — three different translations — O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: come and shine on those who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death.
Verse 6 — O King of all nations and keystone of the Church: come and save man, whom you formed from the dust!
Verse 7 — O Emmanuel, our King and Giver of Law: come to save us, Lord our God!
O Wisdom, O Adonai — a Hebrew name for God — O Root of Jesse, O Key of David, O Radiant Dawn, O King of all Nations, and O Emmanuel.
So — to recap.
The words in our carol were possibly written as early as the 6th century — definitely by the 9th century.
And — sometime around the 12th century — a monk did some editing — rewriting the carol a bit — and narrowed the verses down to five and made it into a hymn.
And though originally Emmanuel was the last verse — after it took on this new form — O Emmanuel found itself at the beginning — and now in the title — of the carol.
The words were translated into English by John Henry Newman in 1836. And the melody we sing was added in 1854. And years later the carol went back to having seven verses just like it originally began.
Now what I love about this carol is how it’s filled with all of these great titles for Jesus that are found in the Old Testament. For instance, the title of Emmanuel comes from Isaiah 7:14, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”
Now a little trivia fact for you. Why do we see Emmanuel start with the letter “I” sometimes and the letter “E” at other times? Well the spelling that begins with an “I” is based on the Hebrew form of the word and the spelling that begins with an “E” is based on the Greek form of the word. Take that Jeopardy! — now back to more important matters.
O Root of Jesse comes from Isaiah 11:10, “In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples — of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.”
O Dayspring, which means dawn or sunrise, comes from Malachi 4:2, “But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise (so the sun shall rise) with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.”
O Key of David is found in Isaiah 22:22. which says, “And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David. He shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.” And that verse is quoted in Revelation 3:7. “And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: 'The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens.”
And, O Adonai — O Lord of Might — has many connections throughout the Old Testament. For example, it’s the name for God found in Exodus 3:15. “God also said to Moses, "Say this to the people of Israel: 'The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.' This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.”
And in Philippians we read, “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9-11)
Now we don’t have time to look at all of the titles — but know — that our carol is full of Old Testament prophecies pointing to who the coming Savior would be — what He would be like — and what He would accomplish. And the New Testament tells us that the promised Savior comes as a baby born to a young virgin — a baby who is both fully God and fully man — which is the reason why we sing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” every year — for Emmanuel means God with us.
And in response to Jesus coming and fulfilling all of these promises, our carol over and over and over again tells us to rejoice — which is what I hope all of us will do today as we explore the joy that’s offered to us in Jesus.
And that’s the first word I want us to look at in our verse. Paul writes, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4 ESV)
This word — rejoice or joy — is found both in the Old and New Testaments. About the word — when found in the Old Testament — scholars (Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey William Bromiley, and Gerhard Friedrich, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans, 1964), 363–69) say that the reasons for being joyful include “God and his saving acts,” “concrete demonstrations of salvation,” “God’s law,” “the reward for faithfulness to the Law,” events like “weddings,” and even the corporate joy of God’s people as it relates to the “temple and ritual practices.” You can find these descriptions of joy — all of these different reasons to be joyful — in the writings of Moses, in the psalms, and in the prophets.
An example is found in Isaiah 35:10, where we read “And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” A rescue will take place — God’s people will be saved — and those who are rescued will experience an everlasting joy.
Later in Isaiah we read, “Therefore thus says the Lord God: "Behold, my servants shall eat, but you shall be hungry; behold, my servants shall drink, but you shall be thirsty; behold, my servants shall rejoice, but you shall be put to shame...But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness.” (Isaiah 65:13, 18 ESV)
The people of God will rejoice forever in the city of God — a city full of joy. Yet the enemies of God will be put to shame — they will find themselves in a place where joy isn’t found.
In the New Testament the word we translate as rejoice — or joy — is actually a secular word that the New Testament authors sort of hijacked and turned into a spiritual word. It originally was a common greeting — kind of like something you’d say as you make a toast with your glass before you drink (Colin Brown, ed., The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Vol. II (Zondervan, 1981), 356–61.). But it became an important word in the New Testament as this secular word is used 133 times in the New Testament. And the word joy is used a lot in the birth narratives of Jesus.
In Matthew’s gospel, the wise men are said to be filled with joy when they saw the sign of the Messiah — the star. When they find Jesus, do you remember what they do? They bow down and worship and give Jesus gifts. They’d traveled a long way to find Jesus and had been anticipating the moment of being in His presence for some time. So — when they finally find Him — what do you think they were filled with? If the star — a sign leading them to the one they’re looking for — if the star gave them joy — actually being in the presence of the Messiah would give them nothing less than joy.
In Luke’s gospel, joy is mentioned in the stories about the birth of Jesus. Joy’s mentioned in the story of John the Baptist’s birth. His parents are told that the reason joy would surround their son was not so much due to his miraculous birth — which it was — they were old and had no children when they were promised a son. The joy wasn’t going to be based on John’s prominence as a prophet — even though he would be a great prophet. No the reason that joy would surround their son is because John would be the one who announces that the promised Messiah had come. John had been marked to prepare the way for the One who would come and be the joy for all people.
And when Jesus was born, Luke tells us that an angel came to a group of shepherds and told them not to be afraid, but to have joy. Why? “The Savior — yes, the Messiah, the Lord — has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!” (Luke 2:10, NLT)
SUMMARY OF POINT 1
The emphasis — in both Matthew and Luke — is that Jesus is the great joy that’s come for all people. So the goal of the Christian faith — the purpose of the gospel — in some sense — is to help people find the joy they’re searching for — the joy they’re frantic to find — is a joy that’s only found in Jesus.
IN THE LORD
Which leads us back to our verse because there we’re told to...
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4 ESV)
We’re to rejoice — or have joy — in the Lord.
But think of all of the places where we try to find joy. Some try to find joy in temporary things. Their lives revolve around them getting whatever it is they think will give them joy. Could be possessions or money. A certain career or having the ideal family. People try to find joy in whatever they think will give them comfort or security. They try to find joy in temporary things all while being oblivious to the fact that none of these things can give them real and lasting joy.
Some turn to religion to find joy — they think joy is to be found in what they do for God. They think if they pray enough, or read their Bible enough, or if they volunteer enough, or give enough money to the church that God will give them joy. But that’s not how joy works either. We don’t do things for God so that He owes us something — even to be joyful. Doing things for God — so He owes you joy — is just as frivolous as doing things for God so He owes you anything else — it doesn’t work.
But what we see in Paul’s words — is that real, lasting — filling that void in your life joy — can be found. And we see where it’s to be found in the words “in the Lord.”
Now this phrase — in the Lord — can be understood in a few different ways. One author has said that the phrase can mean “in the will, purpose, or power of the Lord,” it can mean “because of the Lord,” it can mean “because you are in the Lord,” or it can mean to have “Christ as [the] object of [your] worship.” (Mark J. Keown and H. Wayne House, Philippians, Evangelical Exegetical Commentary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2017), 332.)
And here are my thoughts on all of those possibilities — yes! Yes we’re to rejoice because of the will of the Lord. God’s will is perfect and if you are in Christ — if you believe in Him — God is working out His will perfectly for your eternal good. So rejoice...in the Lord!
We’re to rejoice because of the purpose of the Lord. God has made His purposes clear to us in His Word. What is He doing? Why is He doing it? What’s His end goal? What’s our part to play in God’s purpose for all things? These questions are all answered in the Bible and their answers give us a reason to rejoice. So rejoice...in the Lord!
We’re to rejoice because of the power of the Lord. God is all-powerful. He has no equal. There’s nothing too hard for Him. God can do all things according to His character — right Kidway folks? All reasons to rejoice because this means that the friend or family member who you grieve over because they hate Jesus — or maybe are indifferent to Him — well guess what? They’re no match for God’s saving power. There is no sinner so powerful that saving them is a task to difficult for God. What a reason to rejoice. So rejoice...in the Lord!
We’re to rejoice because of the Lord — because of who Jesus is and all that He’s done on our behalf.
We’re to rejoice because we’re in the Lord. To be in the Lord means to put your faith in Jesus and — in doing so — the Bible says your old, rebellious, “I’m against God” self has died with Christ on the cross and as Christ was raised from the dead you were raised with Him as a new, obedient, “I’m for God” person. And being in Christ, when God looks to you He sees you — but He sees you enveloped in Christ — surrounded by Christ — absorbed in all that Christ is — so that He sees a new, radically transformed you that you don’t even yet begin to comprehend or appreciate.
And we’re to rejoice because of who we worship. We worship an amazing Savior. We worship a compassionate, patient, unconditionally loving God. We worship an “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart” kind of Savior.
As George Mueller — the great orphan caretaker of England — would say, “The first, great, and primary business...everyday was to have my soul happy in the Lord.” ( Tony Merida et al., Exalting Jesus in Philippians, Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary (Nashville, Tennessee: Holman Reference, 2016), 171.) The guy cared for over 10,000 orphans during his life, yet his primary business — every single day — was to be happy — or joyful — in Jesus.
Or as C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity, “If you want to get warm you must stand near the fire. If you want to be wet you must get into the water. If you want joy, power, peace, eternal life, you must get close to, or even into, the thing that has them...They are a great fountain of energy and beauty spurting up at the very center of reality. If you are close to it, the spray will wet you: if you are not, you will remain dry.” (C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity: A Revised and Amplified Edition, with a New Introduction, of the Three Books, Broadcast Talks, Christian Behaviour, and Beyond Personality, 1st HarperCollins ed. (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001), 176.)
If you want to be showered with joy — get close to the joy giver.
SUMMARY OF POINT 2
Where does your joy come from — what gives you joy?
Most people think you get joy when you get what you desire. But real joy comes when you realize what you deserve — and that you didn’t get it. True joy’s found when you realize that you deserve eternal judgment but — instead — have been given the gift of salvation through faith in Christ — that truth should give you great joy.
Joy isn’t about getting what you want; it’s about all you have in Jesus. ( Merida et al., Exalting Jesus in Philippians, 172.)
And when you look at all that you have in Jesus you will...
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4 ESV)
Now the meaning here — in the word “always” — is the idea of “rejoicing at all times” not “constantly rejoicing.” (Gerald F. Hawthorne, Philippians, Revised., Word Biblical Themes (Waco, TX: Word, 2004), 244.) Meaning the idea isn’t “are you rejoicing now? What about now? What about now? Now? What about now? Are you rejoicing right now?” That’s not what Paul means.
Paul means can you rejoice in all circumstances? For instance, this letter was likely written from prison. So, Paul’s own circumstances sets the tone for what he means by being joyful — or rejoicing — always. It’s possible — and necessary — to rejoice in all circumstances. And only if your joy is in Jesus will you be able to rejoice in all circumstances.
Rejoice while in prison? Only if Jesus is where your joy is found.
Rejoice with cancer? Only if your joy is in Jesus and not in being cancer free.
Rejoice when she left me? Only if Jesus is the sole source of your joy.
Rejoice when I didn’t get into any of the colleges I applied to? Only if Jesus is your joy.
Biblical joy is so different from everything we’re taught to believe about joy. Our culture tells us that we can only have joy when everything is going great. When the world is crumbling — or our wishes and wants are not being fulfilled — then you don’t have to be joyful — at least that’s what we’re told. Culture also tells us that our longings and desires — what we think will give us joy — are beyond our control — they’re just natural. What we want is what we want. What we think will give us joy is what we’re to go and explore and see if we can find our happiness. We’re told that our circumstances are key to our joy.
Now — in a real sense our joy is circumstantial — and we really don’t have control over our circumstances. Sometimes the innocent find themselves in prison. No one volunteers for cancer — or for your wife to walk out on you and the kids — or to get a rejection letter from every college you applied to. And there’s really not any way to avoid being influenced by your circumstances — life can be brutally shocking — it can suck all of the air out of your lungs in a second with news you never imagined you’d be hearing. And our culture has a good read on our longings and desires — they do come from deep within us. But what our culture is unwilling to admit is that our hearts are deceitful — our hearts are always seeking to control us — and that our hearts are not to be trusted.
Yet here’s where the Christian faith gives us comfort not found in what we hear from culture. The Christian faith teaches us that true joy isn’t the product of random circumstances. Joy based on our circumstances won’t ever be stable — it’ll always be shifting — like an unsafe bridge that you’re trying to cross — you keep waiting for it to give out and eventually it does — joy based on our ever changing wants and desires is like chasing after the wind — or even worse — you finally get what you’ve been desiring only to find yourself feeling even more empty than when you were chasing after it.
But if our joy is based — not on a temporary circumstance — but on something that has eternal consequences — then the joy we find because of that circumstance will itself be everlasting. And what the Christian faith teaches is that the only source of joy that will satisfy us forever — is the joy that God offers to us in His Son when we turn to Jesus as our Messiah — as our Savior and Lord.
And when Jesus is your Messiah, your joy doesn’t come and go like the waves of the ocean or like a gust of wind — because your joy is no longer based on your wants and desires but is based on Jesus who is a Rock, a Foundation, who is steady and secure in all situations. And your longings and desires — which are deeply ingrained within you — are not so deep that they’re outside of the power and Spirit of God. And in turning to Jesus, your longings and desires are changed by the power and Spirit of God as you put your hope and trust in Emmanuel. And you find that your desires are being changed and aligned with God’s perfect plan.
And then your longings — and my longings — being empowered by God and influenced by the Holy Spirit — are no longer a source of frustration — but are a source of hope and purpose — as our longings and desires become a reason to rejoice because they’re in line with the One who is our joy.
And so Paul concludes by saying, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4 ESV)
Jesus has come. The long expected — anticipated — we’ve been waiting for you — Messiah has come. The King of all nations has come. The Bright and Morning Star has come. The Key of David has come. The Branch of Jesse has come. The Lord of Might has come. The Wisdom from on High has come. Emmanuel has come.
And He will come again — Jesus will return. It’s been promised and God doesn’t break His promises. And our response to this Good News — like Paul — is to rejoice. We’re to rejoice because our Savior has come and is coming again. We rejoice because Jesus’ promised return is the circumstance that is determining the trajectory of our eternity. Rejoice because — through faith in Christ — you are in Him — you have hope in Him — you have peace through Him — you are loved by Him — you have found joy in Jesus.
Rejoice in the Lord always — I will say it again — rejoice.
Heavenly Father, help us to be joyful people. May our joy be based on the circumstance of the birth, life, death, resurrection, and promised return of our Messiah — of our Lord and Savior — Jesus Christ. That is a foundation for our joy that is unshakeable. Though the waves of life may come crashing against us, our faith stands secure on the Rock.
Father, for those who are here today looking for joy — give them the joy they’ve been searching for — but haven’t been able find — the joy found in Your Son. May their hearts be given new life, may their spirits be awakened by Your Spirit, may their desires be Your desires, and their purpose in life align with Your purpose for them.
And for all of us — Father, Son, and Spirit — may we trust in Your promises to us. That Emmanuel has come and is coming again. May we fix our eyes on our Savior and King who has promised to return to rescue His people from this dark and broken world — who will return and make all things new — and in returning will give us an all new indescribable joy as we experience His presence forever. O come, O come, Emmanuel. Amen.
May you go rejoicing in the Lord...always. Amen.
God loves you. And I love you too. You are sent.