O Come! Reflections 12-19-18

Isaiah 11:2-3
Isaiah 33:22
Isaiah 11:1
Isaiah 22:22
Isaiah 9:2
Isaiah 2:4
Isaiah 7:14

This Sunday is the fourth and final Sunday of Advent. Then “bam” – the next day is Christmas Eve. 

I really prefer my Advents to be longer. I don’t feel like I’ve really soaked in it long enough this year. I know, the point of Advent is that we “know neither the day nor the hour” so we need to be prepared, alert, and keep lamps trimmed and burning. This year's short Advent teaches me about itself even if I don’t like. Funny how those things work.

I really don’t pay much attention to Christmas until Christmas. We put up our tree on the 3rd or 4th Sunday and decorate it later in that week. I set out the nativities a bit earlier, but never put Jesus in the scene until Christmas Eve. Instead, I spend four weeks immersing myself in Advent. I love how it offsets nature’s deepening darkness by increasing the light by one candle each week. Somehow that one light more brings hope that stops me for a moment, and I take in a profound breath of God’s promise.

Another piece of Advent that strengthens my soul is called “The O Antiphons”. As certain as distant history can be (not), it is believed that they have been around since the sixth century C.E. (or so). They later took shape as the Advent hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” based on a Latin hymn from the twelfth century. 

To explain a bit: An antiphon is a short phrase associated with a psalm or a canticle (other songs from a different book of the bible) that is used in a worship service. The antiphon is sung before the psalm or canticle, after some of the verses, and at the end. 

These particular antiphons are used each evening in the week before Christmas during vespers/evening prayer services where the canticle of Mary from Luke 1:46-55 is used. Each of them begins with “O” followed by a name/characteristic of the Messiah based on the prophecies of Isaiah.

I learned all this from my campus pastor at the University of Illinois when I was a student so very long ago. He is the source of my love of liturgy.

My love of liturgy, however, has not led me to offer vespers each night the week before Christmas, but I do use the “O”s for devotions when December 17 arrives. For example, this year, my husband and I have ridden together to work all week and have sung the appropriate verse of O Come, O Come, Emmanuel during the trip. And since I feel a little cheated by a short Advent this year, I have shared them day by day on my Facebook page.

So here they are, The O Antiphons. They were created in Latin so I am using an English translation from the Lutheran Book of Worship, © 1978, admin. Augsburg Fortress.

As you read them, ponder what, where, or who in our world would benefit from the arrival of such a one.

December 17: 
O Wisdom, proceeding from the mouth of the Most High,
pervading and permeating all creation,
mightily ordering all things:
come and teach us the way of prudence.

December 18:
O Adonai and ruler of the house of Israel,
who appeared to Moses in the burning bush
and gave him the Law on Sinai:
come with an outstretched arm and redeem us.

December 19:
O Root of Jesse, standing as an ensign before the peoples,
before whom all kings are mute,
to whom the nations will do homage:
come quickly to deliver us.

December 20: 
O Key of David and scepter of the house of Israel,
you open and no one can close,
you close and no one can open:
come and rescue the prisoners who are in darkness
and the shadow of death.

December 21:
O Dayspring, splendor of light everlasting:
come and enlighten those who sit in darkness
and in the shadow of death.

December 22:
O King of the nations, the ruler they long for,
the cornerstone uniting all people:
come and save us all, who you formed out of clay.

December 23:
O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver,
the anointed of the nations and their Savior:
come and save us, O Lord our God.

Latin: O Sapientia,  O Adonai, O Radix Jesse,O Clavis David, O Oriens, O Rex Gentium,  
O Emmanuel

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Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Iowa City

Gathered by grace. Scattered for service.

123 E Market Street
Iowa City, IA 52245