O Emmanuel, our King and Giver of the Law,
the people await you, their Savior:
Come and save us, O Lord our God!
If you’ve been reading my “Soundings” these past few weeks of Advent, then you know that I have been steadily working my way through the “O” Antiphons as part of my personal preparation for, and spiritual pilgrimage to Christmas. I have wanted to better understand the different ways that the Scriptures talk about who Christ is, and what Christ does, and thereby, to deepen my own devotion to Him even as I welcome Him once again into my heart.
This Advent hymn is based on something that was sung in the monasteries of the MiddleAges in the dark days right before Christmas. Each evening from December 17 to December 23 a different monk, beginning with the Abbot and then descending through monastic rank and order right down to the most recently arrived novice, would lead the whole community in a sung petition for the Savior to come.
The version of the hymn that I used these past few weeks in my own devotional practice is the one that appears in the Chalice Hymnal (#120) right across the page from the Advent hymn “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” (#119). This version comes from the liturgical life of the Church of the Province of Southern Africa (Anglican).
- Antiphon 1– O Emmanuel, our King and Giver of the Law, the people await you, their Savior: Come and save us, O Lord our God!
- Antiphon 2– O Wisdom, you came forth from the lips of God Most High and you reach from one end of the universe to the other, powerfully and gently ordering all things: Come and teach us the way of prudence!
- Antiphon 3 –O Adonai and Leader of the house of Israel, you appeared to Moses in the flame of a burning bush and at Sinai you gave him the Law: Come with your outstretched arm to save us!
- Antiphon 4 – O Root of Jesse, you stand for a sign to the peoples; before you kings are silent, and Gentiles pray with longing: Come now and set us free!
- Antiphon 5 – O Key of David, and Ruler of the House of Israel, you open and none can shut; you shut and no one can open: Come and lead out of the prison house the captives who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death!
- Antiphon 6 – O Morning Star, you are the splendor of eternal life; you are the dawning sun, the Sun of justice: Come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death!
- Antiphon 7– O King of the nations and the fulfillment of their longing, you are the Cornerstone and you make all one; you formed us from primeval clay: Come, and save us!
Having now made this spiritual journey, here at the beginning of Christmas week – remember… Christmas is a season and not just a single day – I just wanted to wrap back around for a second to the very first “O” antiphon, to the “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” “O” antiphon, and to reflect on this Christ who has come into my life, the life of the church and the life of the world, before moving on into the New Year with Him as my Lord and Savior.
With the first “O” Antiphon I prayed for Christ to come into my life and the life of the world this Christmas as God’s wisdom. “Wisdom” is not knowledge. Knowledge is information. Wisdom is insight. Knowledge can tell what something is, but we need wisdom to understand what something means. When we say that Christ is God’s wisdom what we’re saying is that He brings everything into focus for us. God’s ways are not our ways, or so the Prophet Isaiah observed long ago (55:8), and so we are counseled not to rely on our own insight, or to lean on our own understanding, but rather to trust in the Lord with all our hearts (Proverbs 3:5-8). As 2017 begins with all of its uncertainties and ambiguities, we need God’s Wisdom in Christ now more than ever. So, come Wisdom of God, come and show us the way!
With the second “O” Antiphon I prayed for Christ to come into my life and the life of the world this Christmas as Adonai, as the strong Deliverer of God’s people. Election years fuel Messianic expectations and trigger apocalyptic disappointments. This election year was no exception, in fact, if anything, this election year has been this pattern on steroids! The unbridled giddiness of the winners and the utter despair of the losers is unlike anything that I have witnessed in my previous eleven Presidential contests. Personally, I don’t think that the next 4 years are going to be as good as the winners think, or as bad as the losers fear. I expect this administration to do some good things just like all administrations do, and some bad things, just as all administrations do. And in 4 years we’ll be back doing this all over again. And that’s because no administration is ever going to fix everything that needs fixing, or not make mistakes that others will have to fix later. All of which is to say, I’m not looking for this President, or his successor to save us. No, there’s only one qualified for that job. So, come faithful Adonai, and with your strong outstretched arm rescue us!
With the third “O” Antiphon I prayed for Christ to come into my life and the life of the world this Christmas as the Root of Jesse, as the fulfillment of God’s covenantal promise to King David. This is the most important thing that I know about the God of the Bible — He is trustworthy. God keeps His promises. When God tells us that He is going to do something, God keeps His word to us. One way to read the Bible is through its covenants, through the agreements that God makes with people about how He will relate to them, what He expects of them, and what He will do for them. Adam, Noah, Abraham, David, Christ and us – you and me. There are Biblical Covenants that spell out how each one of these Divine/human relationships worked, and God was faithful to the terms of each one of them. So, come gracious promise maker and faithful promise keeper, come and do what you have promised to do.
With the fourth “O” Antiphon I prayed for Christ to come into my life and life of the world this Christmas as the Open Door that none can shut. I am at that point in my life when I know that not everything that I had dreamed of and planned for when I was a young man just getting started is going to come about in my life. But even now I know that there is a door open to me that will never close, and that’s the door of God’s loving purpose in Jesus Christ for my own personal journey to final wholeness, and for the final wholeness of all creation. So, come Key of David, the one who opens doors that never close, come and open the door of your future for this world, and for all of us who live in it!
With the fifth “O” Antiphon I prayed for Christ to come into my life and the life of the world this Christmas as the bright morning star shining in the darkness. On Christmas Eve we passed the light from the Christ Candle in our darkened sanctuary from person to person at the end of the worship service. And with that worship space aglow we repeated the Christmas Gospel that “in Him (Christ) was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:4-5). Luke’s Gospel begins with the coming of Christ compared to a sunrise, to the light shining on those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death” (Luke 1:78-79). The darkness of defeat, death and despair abounds these days. What we need is the light. So, come bright morning star, come and shine, come and dispel the encroaching darkness.
And with the sixth “O” Antiphon I prayed for Christ to come into my life and the life of the world this Christmas as the fulfillment of all our longings. We have our dreams. We dream of peace. We dream of justice. We dream of abundance. We dream of wholeness. We dream of freedom. We dream of righteousness. We dream of a Kingdom come when and where God’s will is done on earth just as it is in heaven. And when we awaken from our dreams we see a world that is far from these dreams that we have for it. We throw ourselves into the struggle for peace, and justice, and abundance, and wholeness, and freedom, and righteousness. But like miners trapped deep in a dark cave by a rock fall with only ballpeen hammers in our hands, it seems that our desperate chipping away at the boulders is accomplishing precious little. And it’s when we collapse exhausted and despairing of ever breaking through that we hear it — the rhythmic sound of digging from the other side (Fr. Louis Evely’s analogy fund in his book on the Lord’s Prayer – We Dare to Our Father – 1968). Someone is coming toward us. Someone is coming for us. Our dreams are matched by God’s purpose, and by God’s action. So, come powerful One, come and fulfill our longings for wholeness and healing, for ourselves, and for all of creation.
As Christmas 2016 ends and Epiphany 2017 begins, it is in companionship with the Christ – our Wisdom, our Adonai, our Root of Jesse, our Key of David, our Morning Star, our King, and our Emmanuel. DBS +