“Come, Lord Jesus!” “Tomorrow, I will be there!”
During the final week of Advent the Church offers us an intense time of preparation for the feast of the Nativity, and the Roman Church in particular sings a series of antiphons at Vespers that magnificently set forth the nature of the coming One.
In the Liturgy of the Hours, Evening Prayer, also know as Vespers, always includes Mary’s great hymn known as the Magnificat. Each evening, the Magnificat is preceded by a short verse or “antiphon” that links the prayer to the feast of the day or the season of the year. In the last seven days of Advent (December 17-24), the antiphons before the Magnificat are very special. Each begins with the exclamation “O” and ends with a plea for the Messiah to come. As Christmas approaches the prayer becomes increasingly urgent.
It is believed that the “O Antiphons” were composed in the 7th or 8th century when monks put together texts from the Old Testament, particularly from the prophet Isaiah that looked forward to the coming of our salvation. They form a rich mosaic of scriptural images. The “O Antiphons” became very popular in the Middle Ages when it became traditional to ring the great bells of the church each evening as they were being sung.
Each of the O Antiphons highlights a different title for the Messiah: O Sapientia (O Wisdom), O Adonai (O Lord), O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse), O Clavis David (O Key of David), O Oriens (O Rising Sun), O Rex Gentium (O King of the Nations), and O Emmanuel. Also, each one refers to the prophecy of Isaiah of the coming of the Messiah. A particularly fascinating feature of the O Antiphons is that the first letter of each invocation, when read backwards, forms an acrostic in Latin: the first letters of Sapientia, Adonai, Radix, Clavis, Oriens, Rex, and Emmanuel in reverse form the Latin words: ERO CRAS. These can be understood as the words of Christ, responding to his people’s plea, saying “Tomorrow I will be there.”
Here is a rendering of this ‘season’s brightest jewels’ that can help us understand more clearly how Jesus has fulfilled the hopes, dreams and aspirations of Israel.
December 17 O Wisdom, O Holy Word of God (Sir. 24:3), you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care (Wisd. of Solomon 8:1). Come and show your people the way to salvation (Isa. 40:3-5).
December 18 O Sacred Lord of Ancient Israel (Exod. 6:2, 3, 12), who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush (Exod. 3:2), who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain: come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free.
December 19 O Flower of Jesse’s Stem, you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples (Isa. 11:10; Rom. 15:12); kings stand silent in your presence (Isa. 5:15); the nations bow down in worship before you. Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid (Hab. 2:3; Heb. 10:37).
December 20 O Key of David, O royal Power of Israel, controlling at your will the gate of heaven (Isa. 22:22; Rev. 3:7); come, break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death; and lead your captive people into freedom (Isa. 42:7; Ps. 107:14; Luke 1:79).
December 21 O Radiant Dawn (Zech. 6:12), splendor of eternal light (Heb. 1:3), sun of justice (Mal 4:2): come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death (Luke 1:78-79; Isa. 9:2).
December 22 O King of all the Nations, the only joy of every human heart (Hag 2:8); O Keystone (Isa. 28:16) of the mighty human arch (Eph. 2:14); come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust (Gen. 2:7).
December 23 O Emmanuel (Isa. 7:14; 8:8), king and lawgiver (Isa. 33:22), desire of the nations (Gen. 49:10), Savior of all, come and set us free, Lord our God.