It’s the fourth Sunday of Advent, a day that falls pretty much in the middle of my favorite period in the season – the week of the O Antiphons. The O Antiphons are verses that are sung or chanted at vespers from December 17-23. They are called the O Antiphons because each of these short verses begins with the word, or letter, O, and addresses Christ by a different title: O Wisdom, O Adonai, O Root of Jesse, O Key of David, O Radiant Dawn, O King of Nations, O Emmanuel. The hymn, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” is based on the O Antiphons.
Each O Antiphon focuses on a particular attribute of Christ and a different one is sung each night followed by the Magnificat, the ancient song recorded in the in Luke’s gospel as Mary’s song, very much like Hannah’s song in the Hebrew scriptures. The Magnificat begins, “My soul magnifies the Lord…” The coupling of the Magnificat and the O Antiphons makes me wonder if there’s a suggestion that the Antiphons’ attributes of Christ can also be found within us; that our own lives magnify the Lord by exhibiting a something of these qualities. I wonder if there might be one or two antiphons that speak to each of us personally. Let’s look briefly at each of them.
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.
Are you someone others identify as wise? Maybe you have far more life experience than your actual years would suggest. You’ve had difficulties. You’ve made mistakes, perhaps really big mistakes. You’ve endured more pain, suffering and loss that you never thought you could survive. And yet you did survive. Or maybe you’ve learned a thing or two the hard way by making decisions that got you into trouble. Then something got your attention, and you rebuilt your life out of the ruins that it once was. And now you’re the voice of experience. You’re in a position to guide others and steer them away from doing the same foolish things that you did. You can help them learn from your mistakes. Maybe your soul magnifies the Lord and shows forth the attributes of the first antiphon, O Wisdom.
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.
Maybe you have an innate sense of fairness and equality. You can look at almost any problem objectively and solve it applying a clear set of principles to come to a swift conclusion that takes everyone’s needs into consideration but favoring no one. People look to you to mediate, or maybe just to get things done without a lot of fuss and bother. You see a clear path in front of you and you follow it. To your way of thinking it’s just that simple. And yet others marvel at your ability to remain calm and collected no matter how difficult the circumstances you face. You might not literally be a ruler of a nation, but you are very much at home in your own skin; you know who you are and what you believe. Your antiphon is the second one, O Adonai, ruler.
O Root of Jesse, who stands for an ensign before the people, Before whom kings are mute and to whom the nations will do homage: Come quickly to deliver us.
You might be one who has a deep level conviction and passion. Perhaps you what it takes to stand before a governing body, or in a courtroom, or at a protest gathering speaking with conviction about the principles you stand for. Your beliefs are so deep and your ability to articulate them is so clear that others are grateful that you’ve helped them sort out what they stand for, while others disagree with you completely. But people respect you because they know that you have always the greater good of everyone one in mind. You always point to something greater than yourself, a higher principle. You could be singing the third antiphon, O Root of Jesse.
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 in the shadow of death.
I’ve had the opportunity to observe a number of people lately who are rescuing prisoners and those who are in darkness or the shadow of death. Perhaps you are literally helping to free people from jail or working in a hospice program. Or maybe you have been helping those who have lost their jobs, or who don’t have enough money to buy food or pay their fuel or electric bill. There are those of you who help to unlock those prison doors by giving some food or clothing or a brand-new toy to a child who wouldn’t otherwise have one. You sing the fourth antiphon, O Key of David.
O (Radiant Dawn) Dayspring, splendor of light everlasting: Come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.
Perhaps you have the ability to make people feel good by just walking into a room. You might be the one who is always there to listen. You don’t have advice to offer, you don’t try to fix anything, you’re just there with a smile and a gentle touch and a slice of apple pie and a cup of coffee. You take the time to send a card or call to ask how someone is feeling and you really listen to the answer. You are patient and kind and people are drawn to you. You likely have no idea that you are bringing light into the darkness; you’re just doing what comes naturally to you. You are singing the fifth antiphon as you become the radiant dawn for people.
O King of the nations, the ruler they long for, the cornerstone uniting all people: Come and save us all, whom You formed out of clay.
You are an organizer, a leader. You help groups of people figure out what they want to accomplish and then you help them do it. You might not be a king of nations, but you might own a business or direct a non-profit organization or chair a committee or hold an office. You help individuals find a group identity as they accomplish common goals for the benefit of all. You make life in the community just a little bit better by taking the time to understand it as you inspire people to improve it. You sing the sixth antiphon, O King of the nations.
O Emmanuel, our king and our Lord, The anointed for the nations and their Savior: Come and save us, O Lord our God.
O Emmanuel, literally means, “God With Us.” We all sing this antiphon. We all sing of the God who rules our hearts and minds and actions. We offer our hands and feet to act on behalf of the Creator who has no visible form in this world apart from those of us who are the creatures.
With less than a week left until Christmas what song are you singing?