O Emmanuel (December 23)

Today we come to the end of the O Antiphons – perhaps the one that most people know, thanks to the Advent hymn inspired by it: “O Emmanuel, our King and Giver of Law: come to save us, Lord our God!”

The name ‘Emmanuel’ – meaning ‘with us is God’ – comes from the book of the prophet Isaiah. After Ahaz refuses the invitation of the Lord to ask for a sign to reassure him that God will deliver on His promise, the Isaiah makes this proclamation:

Then he said: Listen, house of David! Is it not enough that you weary human beings? Must you also weary my God? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign; the young woman, pregnant and about to bear a son, shall name him Emmanuel.

Isaiah 7:13-14

Ahaz needed reassurance that he and his people would not be torn apart by their enemies. The Lord exhorted him – and through him, his people – to stand firm, to trust in Him. But He spoke not only to Ahaz, but to all mankind. Isn’t it the case that we often need reassurance that we will not be torn apart by the Enemy, from attacks without and within? Who of us hasn’t trembled at the weight of our own sin and the pressure of temptation!

The message given through the prophet Isaiah speak more profoundly in light of this spiritual battle: “Thus says the Lord God: It shall not stand, it shall not be!” God will not permit His beloved children to stand alone.

What is required of us is neither power nor strength, but instead trust. Some two thousand years ago, our heavenly Father sent His Word to us, incarnate in the person of Christ. By the Father’s will, Jesus sent us His Holy Spirit – and assures us that where two or three are gathered in His name, He is there with them. May we confidently call on the Lord, knowing that He has already come, is with us, and will bring us through our present struggles to eternal joy & peace.

And if you’re looking for good version of that eponymous hymn, here is one of my favorite popular renditions of ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel’:

O Rex Gentium (December 22)

Today is the penultimate day of the O Antiphons, and what a grand one it is: “O King of all nations and keystone of the Church: come and save man, whom you formed from the dust!”

There is a quote about when a man ceases to worship God, he will end up worshipping anything. Though attributed to G.K. Chesterton, it seems this quote is actually an amalgamation of different speeches of Chesterton’s fictional Father Brown. However it might have originated, there’s something to it: we know our hearts are missing something – and we seek to fill that gap with something greater than ourselves.

The Church warns us of seven deadly sins: “They are called ‘capital’ because they engender other sins, other vices. They are pride, avarice, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony, and sloth or acedia.” (CCC 1866) If they take root in our lives, these sins become dominant in us – so much so that they take over (ie, ‘he’s ruled by his pride’). And what cruel rulers they prove to be, when we subject ourselves to them!

One of my favorite quotes from The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe – the first book of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia – speaks about the kind of kingship that is uniquely the Lord’s, modeled in the character of Aslan:

“Who is Aslan?” asked Susan.
“Aslan?” said Mr. Beaver, “Why, don’t you know? He’s the King.”

[. . . .]

You’ll understand when you see him.”
“But shall we see him?” asked Susan.
“Why, Daughter of Eve, that’s what I brought you here for. I’m to lead you where you shall meet him,” said Mr. Beaver.
“Is–is he a man?” asked Lucy.
“Aslan a man!” said Mr. Beaver sternly. “Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion–the Lion, the great Lion.”
“Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he–quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”
“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver. “If there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”
“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ’Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

– C.S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe

Strange though it may sound, choosing deadly sins as our king often seems safer than inviting Christ to be our king. With sin, there is the illusion of control, of having power over others, the world, and ourselves. With Christ, the illusion of control is stripped away and our powerlessness laid bare. Of course this would make us nervous! But as we are reminded by the character of Mr. Beaver, our king is good. May we ask the Lord to help us trust Him, that we might recognize His kingship – and so receive the good things He is preparing for us.

O Sapientia – the first of the O Antiphons (December 17)

Today we begin the octave before Christmas, during which we have one of O Antiphons each day. These antiphons are part of Vespers – Evening Prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours. If you recognize these, it is probably because they form the basis for the Advent hymn ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel’ – though that particular antiphon is the last antiphon, despite being the first verse of the hymn! It seems popular practice sometimes trumps exact liturgical correctness ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

But nevermind all that, because today’s antiphon is O Sapientia or O Wisdom. The full text is “O Wisdom of our God Most High, guiding creation with power and love: come to teach us the path of knowledge!

When discussing evangelization, one of the hurdles folks sometimes face is the sense that they don’t know enough to convey the truths of the faith accurately. In those conversations, it is often a revelation to realize that wisdom has little to do with knowledge of doctrine & dogma and more to do with relationship with the Lord. Provided that we spend time with Him regularly, invite Him into our lives, pay attention to His promptings & presence, we will be the best of evangelists – simply by virtue of our friendship with God.

Wisdom is not the simple regurgitation of facts about Christ and His Church, but being able to discern & live with the mind of Christ! As we draw near to the conclusion of Advent, may we open ourselves to receive God’s loving guidance.

(My friend Thom Ryng, over at his blog The World is Quiet Here, has kicked off his annual reflections on the O Antiphons – I highly recommend it, and his blog in general!)