Monthly Archives: December 2012

The O Antiphons

Royal doors of St. George's Orthodox Cathedral, Toledo.

Royal doors of St. George’s Orthodox Cathedral, Toledo.

A perennial favorite among Advent hymns, “O come, O come, Emmanuel” is a 19th century reworking of the “O Antiphons,” which accompany the saying of the Magnificat (Song of Mary) at Evening Prayer in the last week of Advent.

Whew! That’s a mouthful. Wait, what?

Try this:

You’re saying Evening Prayer tonight, right? Right.

You’ll say the Magnificat after the Gospel reading, right? Right.

Why not add a little touch of extra seasonal solemnity and use an antiphon before and after the Magnificat? It’ll read like this:

O Come, thou Wisdom from on high, who orderest all things mightily;
to us the path of knowledge show, and teach us in her ways to go.

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior; *
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed: *
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him *
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm, *
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, *
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things, *
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel, *
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
The promise he made to our fathers, *
to Abraham and his children for ever.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: *
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever.  Amen.

O Come, thou Wisdom from on high, who orderest all things mightily;
to us the path of knowledge show, and teach us in her ways to go.

Tomorrow evening, you’ll use a different O Antiphon with the Magnificat, and so on for the next week leading up to Christmas Eve. Oh, that’s not so hard!

If you have an Episcopal Hymnal 1982, you can find hymn 56 which has the verses conveniently labeled with the date, but I am also including them here.

(Dec. 17) O come, thou Wisdom from on high, who orderest all things mightily;
to us the path of knowledge show, and teach us in her ways to go.

(Dec. 18) O come, O come, thou Lord of might, who to thy tribes on Sinai’s height
in ancient times didst gave the law, in cloud, and majesty, and awe.

(Dec. 19) O come, thou Branch of Jesse’s tree, free them from Satan’s tyranny;
that trust thy mighty power to save, and give them victory over the grave.

(Dec. 20) O come, thou Key of David, come, and open wide our heavenly home;
make safe the way that leads on high, and close the path to misery.

(Dec. 21) O come, thou Dayspring from on high, and cheer us by thy drawing nigh;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death’s dark shadows put to flight.

(Dec. 22) O come, Desire of nations, bind in one the hearts of all mankind;
bid thou our sad divisions cease, and be thyself our King of Peace.

(Dec. 23) O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear.

You’ll find a nice summary article about the O Antiphons here.

The O Antiphons are a lovely addition to the practice of the Daily Office during Advent. I hope they will enhance your prayers as you prepare to greet the coming of our Incarnate Lord at Christmas.

Our violence cannot save us

Weeping may spend the night,
but joy comes in the morning.

While I felt secure, I said,
“I shall never be disturbed.
You, Lord, with your favor, made me as strong as the mountains.”

Then you hid your face,
and I was filled with fear. (Psalm 30:6-7)

The world that Jesus was born into was characterized by violence.

His mother and father, poor and simple peasants, lived under the yoke of Roman imperial power. That power infected even the Jewish ruler, Herod, whose paranoia about the prophecy of another “king” caused him to have the children of Bethlehem slaughtered.

Violence infected the crowd that demanded Jesus be killed. “We can’t do it ourselves,” they said, so they handed him over to the Romans. Jesus died in agony, publicly executed as a criminal.

Two thousand years later, the infection has only spread. We no longer recognize violence, because it is so casual, so pervasive, ever-present on TV and in our “games.” We even call violence “security” and believe that being better-armed or striking first will make us safe.

Our violence cannot save us. It has never saved us. It will never save us.

Lord Jesus, quickly come! Our souls are full of heaviness and we are brought up short by our powerlessness.

Come again in your disarming vulnerability, your self-offering love, your peace that passes all understanding. Strengthen us to meet violence with love and to face the world unafraid.

Love divine, all loves excelling,
Joy of heaven to earth come down;
Fix in us thy humble dwelling;
All thy faithful mercies crown!
Jesus, Thou art all compassion,
Pure unbounded love Thou art;
Visit us with Thy salvation;
Enter every trembling heart.

Finish, then, Thy new creation;
Pure and spotless let us be.
Let us see Thy great salvation
Perfectly restored in Thee;
Changed from glory into glory,
Till in heaven we take our place,
Till we cast our crowns before Thee,
Lost in wonder, love, and praise.

Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens

The Milky Way, from the bright star Sirius in the upper right corner all the way down to Eta Carina, the red nebula visible on the horizon, as seen from the Florida Keys. Image Credit: Tony Hallas/Science Fiction/Getty Images

“We might understand at some level that those tiny points of light in the night sky are similar to our sun, made of atoms identical to those in our bodies, and that the cavern of outer space extends from our galaxy of stars to other galaxies of stars, to distances that would take light billions of years to traverse. We might understand these discoveries in intellectual terms, but they are baffling abstractions, even disturbing, like the notion that each of us once was the size of a dot, without mind or thought. Science has vastly expanded the scale of our cosmos, but our emotional reality is still limited by what we can touch with our bodies in the time span of our lives.”

-Alan Lightman, Our Place in the Universe | Harper’s Magazine.

When I think about the Incarnation, the mystery toward which the season of Advent is leading us, I most often think of swimming in the lake at Interlochen arts camp in Michigan the summer after my junior year in college, one night around midnight.

The night sky was pitch-black, just like the water. I couldn’t tell where the warm water ended and the warm night air began. As I floated on my back in that womblike state, the Milky Way arched overhead from one end of the sky to the other.

All of that vast immensity is God’s creation. All of that creative power, filling “distances that would take light billions of years to traverse,” came to dwell in a child born to Mary. That child’s life and example transformed the people around him and continues to influence the world. That creative power could not be contained by death.

Lightman writes in this month’s Harper’s Magazine that “our emotional reality is still limited to what we can touch with our bodies in the time span of our lives.”

That’s why I think the Incarnation matters so much. That’s why many Christians (especially Anglicans) bow at the words “he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man” in the Nicene Creed. We bow at the billions of burning stars contained in 11 short words.

“No one has ever seen God,” John writes in the prologue to his Gospel. “It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known” (John 1:18).

I hope that as you look on the baby in the manger this Christmas, your eyes will fill with stars and your heart with gratitude for God’s love, which “reaches to the heavens.”

All my hope on God is founded

Happy are they who have the God of Jacob for their help!
Whose hope is in the Lord their God.
Who made heaven and earth, the seas and all that is in them;
Who keeps his promise for ever. (Psalm 146:4-5)

On this First Sunday of Advent, we begin a new Church Year.

As you prepare to say the Daily Office, move your bookmark all the way back to the beginning of the lectionary for Year One (BCP 936). You may choose to begin Morning Prayer a little differently, perhaps by using the opening sentences for Advent and the Confession of Sin, and by saying the Jubilate instead of the Venite as the Invitatory Psalm (BCP 82).

Advent is the beginning of the year, and in this season we sound the note of hope which rings through every day, every hour of our lives in Christ.

But God’s power, hour by hour,
Is my temple and my tower.

Peter describes in his second letter the sense of expectation we feel as we wait for the Lord to fulfill his promises, and he encourages us not to lose heart. “The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

We respond to the Lord’s patience with thanksgiving:

We bless you for our creation, preservation,
and all the blessings of this life;
but above all for your immeasurable love
in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ;
for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory (BCP 101).

May your practice of the Daily Office this Advent nourish your hope and strengthen your trust in God’s goodness.