The season of Advent has arrived. But nothing kicks the legs out from under our observance of Advent like premature Christmas songs. Advent, as I’m sure you know, is the season leading up to Christmas, designed to focus us on the hope and expectation of Christ’s arrival, his advent in the world. It does this by reminding us that the world was in darkness before Christ. And it also uses that remembrance to bolster our desire to see him come again in glory at his second and final advent to dispel for good all lingering darkness. The spirit of Advent, then, is of watchfulness and waiting. Because of this, Christmas songs are inappropriate to the spirit of the Advent season. They don’t jive; they’re incongruous. Continue reading
The annual cycle of seasons — of solstices and equinoxes, of agricultural death and rebirth, of the changing raiment of the trees, and of the migrations of animals — is an inescapable feature of existing on the planet Earth. Even at the equator where the Earth’s tilt makes astronomical changes like solar solstices or changing constellations not as noticeable, there are still yearly cycles of rainy and dry seasons brought about by shifting global weather patterns. From the dawn of humanity to the present, it’s safe to say that all human life is profoundly shaped by the repeating time-scale of the Year. Continue reading
O Emmanuel, our King and our Law-giver, Longing of the Gentiles, yea, and Salvation thereof, come to save us, O Lord our God!
O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster, exspectatio gentium, et Salvator earum: veni ad salvandum nos Domine Deus noster.
O King of the Gentiles, yea, and desire thereof! O Corner-stone, that makest of two one, come to save man, whom Thou hast made out of the dust of the earth!
O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum, lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum: veni, et salva hominem, quem de limo formasti.
O Rex Gentium is the sixth of the O Antiphons sung with the Magnificat at Vespers in the days preceding Christmas Eve. Addressing Christ by the title “King of the Gentiles”, or “King of the Nations”, this prayer has deep political and anthropological implications. Continue reading
O Dayspring, Brightness of the everlasting light, Sun of justice, come to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death!
O Oriens, splendor lucis æternæ, et sol justitiæ: veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.
The fifth of the O Antiphons sung in the days leading up to Christmas Eve is O Oriens. The Latin oriens can be translated many different ways — sunrise, dawn of the east, morning star, radiant dawn — but I prefer dayspring. There’s a brightness to that word, and a freshness. As with a spring of water, you get the sense of a cool, thirst-quenching refreshment, but you simultaneously have images of fiery rays of golden-white light. It’s a good, evocative, poetic word, and a noble title. Continue reading
O Key of David, and Sceptre of the house of Israel, that openeth and no man shutteth, and shutteth and no man openeth, come to liberate the prisoner from the prison, and them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death.
O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel; qui aperis, et nemo claudit; claudis, et nemo aperit: veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris, sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.
The fourth of the O Antiphons, O Clavis David, addresses Christ by another title that comes from the book of Isaiah. In Isaiah 22, a scene is described in which a new ruler replaces an old, and this is accomplished by the Lord, who says of this new ruler that “… 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” (Isa 22:22-23). Continue reading
O Adonai, and Ruler of the house of Israel, Who didst appear unto Moses in the burning bush, and gavest him the law in Sinai, come to redeem us with an outstretched arm!
O Adonai, et Dux domus Israel, qui Moysi in igne flammæ rubi apparuisti, et ei in Sina legem dedisti: veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.
“O Adonai” is the second great antiphon attached to the Magnificat (Song of Mary), sung in the monastic evening prayer in the days leading up to Christmas. These short poetic lines have a mindfully expectant tone, addressing Christ by different titles and imploring him to come. Unlike the first antiphon “O Sapientia” which addresses Christ by a cosmic, universal title, O Adonai is a more personal, relational title, related specifically to the house of Israel. I’ll come back to the title itself in a moment, but first I want to point out the context of the title: the Exodus. Continue reading
O Wisdom, that comest out of the mouth of the Most High, that reachest from one end to another, and orderest all things mightily and sweetly: come to teach us the way of prudence!
O Sapientia, quæ ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiæ.
O Sapientia, or O Wisdom, is the first of the seven “Great O Antiphons”, an ancient and venerable collection of prayers in the Western tradition of the Church. These prayers are used at evening prayer for the seven days preceding Christmas Eve, sung as antiphons, or musical refrains, at the beginning and end of the Song of Mary (Lk 1:46-55). Each antiphon addresses Christ by a different title or attribute, and all begin with the Latin interjection “O” (thus the name “O Antiphons”) to express the depth of the desire to see Christ come. These antiphons encapsulate both the cosmic and the human desire for the Incarnation of God, the central event of this world’s story. Continue reading
The season of Advent, I believe, is beginning to grow in the popular Christian consciousness in America. More and more resources are being made available for observing Advent – or at least I’m finding more and more – , and I’ve been seeing a rise in individuals and churches using social media to [sometimes not so] gently remind the cultures around them that it’s not Christmas ’till it’s Christmas. Whether from a renewed interest in returning to or rediscovering the ancient and venerable rhythms and way of life for scores of Christians before them, or as an intentional act of resistance in the face of obscene consumerism and “seasonal” marketeering, people have been observing Advent, not Christmas, during Advent. And as you know when you wait for something good, it’s much better than it would have been if you had snatched it before its time came. And so it is with waiting for Christmas. Continue reading
Speedily cause the offspring of David, Your servant, to flourish, and lift up his glory by Your divine help because we wait for Your salvation all the day. Blessed art thou, O L-rd, who causes the strength of salvation to flourish.”
That’s one of the eighteen traditional Jewish benedictions (Shemoneh Ezreh) which were prayed for centuries in the Temple of ancient Israel and are still prayed in synagogues today. It’s a prayer for the promised one of God, the Messiah, to come and establish his rule and authority, which was always accompanied by the expectation of the ultimate rule of YHWH. Though there was arguably no expectation that the Messiah would actually be God incarnate, Israel did expect the kingly figure promised of old from David’s line to usher in YHWH’s final salvation. Continue reading
I’m a part of a new church plant. Church of the Advent will be an Anglican congregation meeting and working within the city of Atlanta. Though the official “plant” date for the church will be later this year, I and the two other fellas’ who will humbly serve as pastors for the church kicked off our first prayer service last night, along with a small number that had gathered to worship with us. This was the first of what will be the Advent’s Thursday night vespers service, a service for the purpose of praying for Atlanta, for the future of the church’s mission, and for each other as people sharing that mission. Continue reading