22nd DecemberAntiphonO King of the nations and Desired of all, you are the cornerstone that unites all people: Come, and savehumankind whom you formed out of clay. Fr Malcolm Guite says about this antiphon:Today we read the sixth great ‘O Antiphon’, ‘O Rex Gentium’. This antiphon calls on Christ as King, yet also calls him the cornerstone and pictures him getting his hands dirty and shaping us with clay: a wonderfully incongruous combination!15Presbyterian Dr Bill Bright was a very famous evangeliser in the US during the 1950s who devoted his life to sharing the Gospel among university students all around the world. He was the founder of an organization called Campus Crusade for Christ. Very directly, we would engage with studentsasking them who was at the throne of their lives. If the self is on the throne, the results of it is a life full of legalistic attitudes, impure thoughts, jealousy, guilt, worry, discouragement, critical spirit, frustration, aimlessness, fear, ignorance of spiritual heritage, unbelief, disobedience, loss of love for God and others, poor prayer life, no desire for Bible study.However, if Christ is at the throne of one’s life, then such life becomes full of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and faithfulness. A life with Christ the king at the throne produces an effective prayer life, understands God’s Word, trusts God, obeys God, is empowered by the Holy Spirit, introduces others to Christ, etc.16All the wonderful things described by Dr Bright in a Christ-directed life are things desired by all, because all desire the King, as the antiphon says. This idea comes from the Bible too. Haggai 2:7 says that the Lord would do something to the earth and the treasure or the ‘desire of all nations shallcome’.Being the king puts Jesus as the most important protector and leader. But the antiphon continues with another reference to Jesus to being a key member, the cornerstone. This allusion is clearly depicted in biblical texts as in Psalms 118:22:The stone that the builders rejectedhas become the chief cornerstone.This passage is mentioned in the New Testament too (cf. Mat. 21:33–44; Mk 12:1–11; and Lk 20:9–18; Acts 4:11, 1 Peter 2:7). In Isaiah 28:16 the same concept of cornerstone is present:therefore thus says the Lord God,See, I am laying in Zion a foundation stone,a tested stone,a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation:‘One who trusts will not panic.’This cornerstone and king of all nations is indeed the good God who formed us from the ground and gave us form out of clay, out of dust (cf. Genesis 2:7). It is through his incarnation and his calvary that he is the God who intimately reaches us, is crowned with thorns and who comes and saves humankind when we put him in the throne of our lives. When we do that, we can join our voices with Isaiah in saying:Yet, O Lord, you are our Father;we are the clay, and you are our potter;we are all the work of your hand.Isaiah 64:8Pray with the antiphonO King of the nations and Desired of all, you are thecornerstone that unites all people: Come, and savehumankind whom you formed out of clay.For ReflectionPicking up the allusions of St Peter in his first epistle about cornerstone, how do you see that Jesus’ kingship can be a stumbling block (see 1 Peter 2:8)?
23rd DecemberAntiphonO Emmanuel, our King and Lawgiver, the Expected ofNations and their Saviour: come, and save us, O Lord ourGod!ArguablythemostimportantwordinthisfinalantiphonisthewordImmanuel(Emmanuelin Latin),whichmeansGodwithus.Theidealofthisnameishighlylinkedtotheprophesyofthe prophet Isaiah 7:14: ThereforetheLordhimselfwillgiveyouasign.Look,theyoungwomaniswithchildandshall bear a son and shall name him Immanuel.ThisprophecywaswrittenseveralcenturiesbeforeJesus’birth.InthetimesofIsaiah,itisprobable thatKingJehoahazIIofJudah(KingAhaz)receivedthismessagefromtheprophetwithgreat encouragement because he saw it realised in his own lifetime; ‘like the birth of a child to a maidenwhichguaranteesafutureeventtotheelderlywho,thoughtheythemselvesmustdie,knowthat theirseedliveson.ThisyoungwomanofIsaiah’stime–wassheperhapsgivingbirthtoAhaz’s song? – would call her child ‘God-with-us’, to show her own firm belief in her country’s future.’17TheGospelspickupthisImmanuelprophecyandgiveitarenewedandmorepowerfulstrengthto it.Now,thishopefulprayer,thiseverlastingrealityovereightcenturieshasbecomeoncemore flesh and bone, although in a much truer reality. The presence of God has been with the people ofIsraelallalong(cf.Ex.33:15-16;Josh.1:5,9and17;Ps.20,21;Jer.1:7-8)anditisnowinthe personofJesusChristinwhomthisprophecyacquiresadeepermeaning,abiggercontinuationin theplanofGodtowardshisrelationshipwithhiscreation.TheGodwhowasintimate,comesnow in a more tangible way, the closest he can get; that is, he comes to be among us and in us.TheideathatGodiswithusshedagreatdealoflighttoGod’strinitarianontology.TheGospelof MatthewspecificallystartswithallusionstoIsaiah’sImmanuelprophecyandfinisheswiththe same idea in chapter 28:And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.Matthew 28:20bJesuscomestobewithusand,throughthepoweroftheHolySpirit,hedoesnotleave.Heremains withusforeternitynow.ThetrinitarianrealitybecomesthereforeevidentinthattheFatherisGod, the Son is God and the Holy Spirit is God; three persons and one God. Having God the Spirit withusensuresthatwealsohaveGodtheSonwithus,andthroughtheSon,wecanhaveaccesstoGod theFatheraswell. WithhisIncarnation,Godfulfilshiscommitmenttobeinrelationshipwithus.It also shows that He is faithful and does not go back on his word. It means that his covenantal lovetranscendsourfailures(cf.Matt.26:40andMk.1437)andthatoursinshasnopoweragainstthe love of God.LikethepaintingofMichelangelointheSistineChapel,Godhasbeentheoneinitiating.Hehas stretchedouthisdivineanduncorruptedhandsothatourreluctant,laid-backheartsmaybeableto reachtohim.OnceweyieldourwilltoJesus,theHolySpiritthencanmoveustojointhecryof the Church and say:Amen, come Lord Jesus!Revelation 22:20Pray with the antiphonO Emmanuel, our King and Lawgiver, the Expected ofNations and their Saviour: come, and save us, O Lord ourGod!For Reflection
AppendixThere are some extra material below for further enrichment regarding eachof the antiphons and their Scriptural references.1
Rev. Malcoln Guite’s sonnet on wisdom is particularly poignant and very thought-provoking:O SapientiaI cannot think unless I have been thought,Nor can I speak unless I have been spoken.I cannot teach except as I am taught,Or break the bread except as I am broken.O Mind behind the mind through which I seek,1 The antiphon graphics of this section is taken from St Matthew’s Westminster’s Church:O Light within the light by which I see,O Word beneath the words with which I speak,O founding, unfound Wisdom, finding me,O sounding Song whose depth is sounding me,O Memory of time, reminding me,My Ground of Being, always grounding me,My Maker’s Bounding Line, defining me,Come, hidden Wisdom, come with all you bring,Come to me now, disguised as everything.Taken from https://malcolmguite.wordpress.com/tag/o-wisdom/
Fr Treanor says in his book Seven Bells to Bethlehem:‘Althoughinvokedas‘Leaderof(thenew)Israel’,Jesusisnotaddressedas‘Moses’but‘O Adonai’. It is an acclamation shot through with the most sacred associations.’ (p.31)WhileJesuscouldberegardedasthenewMoses,thistitledoesnotstickasmuchbecauseheis muchmorethanthat.HesurpassestherolesofMoses.HeisalsoanewAdan,anewMoses,but alsoanewIsaacaswell;anewEsther,anewDavidandanewIsaac.HeisGodalmighty,sohe requiresadeepernamethananyoftheseimportantfigures.Hence,hereceivesthenameaboveall names (cf. Phil. 2:9).NamesintheHebrewcultureoftestamentaltimeswereremarkablyimportant. Theirconnectionsto theidentityofthewholebeingwasinseparable.Torefertoanamewastoconceptuallyrefertothe wholeindividual.Byextensionthetreatmentofanamealsomeantautomatictreatmenttothe wholeperson.GodgivesthepeopleofGodhisnameandthissetstherelationshipbetweenGod andIsraelatanewlevel,FrTreanorsuggests.Itisalevelofintimacywhichwasnotpresent before.ToputthemintermsofphilosopherMartinBuber,therelationwasformerlythatofcreator andcreature(I-it).However,withtherevealingofGod’spersonalname,Godisgivingmuchmore thananidentityrecognition;thisopeningupofofferingcreationthepossibilitytoenterintothe realmofGod’sreality,itnolongerfunctionsasaI-itrelationshipbutasaI-yourelationship.This realconnectionisremarkablysignificantforthepeopleofIsraelasthechosenpeople.Itisastep deeperinidentity.Thus,thechosenpeoplehasbecomeGod’speoplethroughGod’srevelationof the Holy Name.Furthermore,thenamebecomestheepitomeofthebeing,aspreviouslymentioned.Thus,using God’sHolyNamemustbemeticulouslyhandledwithcare.TheHebrewpeoplegetsthispoint particularlyclearfromtheDecalogue;especiallythethirdcommandment:Thoushallnottakethe nameofGodinvain(cf.Ex.20:7),‘[w]hichiswhytheydevelopedthecustomofneverusingthe nameatall.Intheirmoralcodethecommandagainstdoingsowassecondonlytotheprohibition onidolatry.Thetwopreceptswereakin:first,respectforthePerson,thenrespectforhisname.In theSemiticmentalitythenameandthepersonwereonereality. Thenamewastheperson. Todefile the personal name was to defile the one who bore it.’2
2 Treanor O. (1995) Seven Bells to Bethlehem. The O Antiphons. Gracewing. Herefordshire. p.33
TheconceptofthetreeofJessewaspreservedthroughout theagesinChristianityandcontinueddeveloping.Such developmentisduetoiconographyinthehistoryof Christianity,especiallyguidedbythehandofthe OrthodoxChurch.Someofthemostknowntreesin popular devotion can be found in two icons concretely.TheOrthodoxiconoftheRodofJessewiththemystic flower (the Blessed Virgin Mary) blooming from the stemwaswrittenbetweenthetwelfthcenturytothesixteenth century. The Greek Orthodox Church knows it by the RootofJesse(ΡίζαΙεσσαί).TheRussianOrthodoxChurchcalls itthe TreeofJesse(ДревоИессеево).Perhaps,thisiconis themostaccuratedepictioninimage(icon)ofthe Scriptural references of Is. 11:1-4, Matt. 1: 1-17, Lk. 3:34.
Other iconography that popularised the concept of a tree that shoots forth Messianic ‘descendance’ or family linkage is the Greek Orthodox Tree of life/ True Vine:
ThisiconalludestoJohn15:5(depictedintheopenbibleoftheicon),andthepeoplearoundthem arenotChrist’sbiologicalfamily,butratherthetwelveapostles,thevine(άμπελοsinGreek) extendsJesus’familynowtoallbelieversthroughtheapostolicsuccessionofthesetwelvemenand bythepoweroftheHolySpiritinbaptism.Anargumentcanberaisedthereforeaboutthetrue familyofJesusnow;whereby,holdingbothiconstogether,aswellasbearingIsaiah11:1,andJohn 15:5 in mind, one could not escape landing at Matthew 12.48-50:‘But to the one who had told him this, Jesus replied, ‘Who is mymother, and who are my brothers?’ And pointing to his disciples, hesaid, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does thewill of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.’ThefamilyofJesustranscendsthebloodofJesseandisyetfulfilledintheChurchthroughJesus. ThepromisesmadeintheOldTestamentaboutthetreeofJessearemetinJesusandcontinues forward to us through his interceding.
TheKeyofDavidandtheCrossofChristhavemorethingsincommonthanonecanfindatfirst glance. Fr Treanor says:IntheancientMiddleEastsuchakeywasacumbersomeaffair,giventhesystemofcrossbarsand boltsforsecuringthegreatdoorsoffortressesandstrongholds.Constructedofsolidwoodnearlya foot in length, and spiked with metal pins at one end, it was best carried on the shoulder.Eventuallyitbecameavisibleemblemofweightyofficebytheverymannerinwhichwasborne. The analogy between the steward’s key and the cross of Christ hardly needs to be elucidated.3
Jesuscarriedthecrossonhisshouldersothateverythingwereputtoright.Itwasthe key that open the gates of heaven to us all and it is through him 3 Treanor O. (1995) Seven Bells to Bethlehem. The O Antiphons. Gracewing. Herefordshire. p.58.
thatanyonecancometotheFather.TheincarnationofChristisnotjustanimportant historicalevent.Ittranscendstheeventandlooksintothefuture;itlooksintocalvaryand thecross.Itlooksthroughtheemptytombtothesecondcomingandbeyondthat.Hewill restoreeverything,andthegarden(paradise)willbefullyrealisedinthecityofGod,the new Jerusalem. In his book Advent for everyone, Bishop Tom Wright refers to the conceptwhatisgoingtobenewthroughtheappearanceofJesusinthepicture.Healsouses Revelation 21, and he explains: Birth,marriage,fullrecoveryfromalongand[dangerous]illness,theexperienceof someonenewcomingtolivewithyou.Allthese,interestingly,featureinthelistofimages Johnusesashebuildsupthisbreathtakingpictureofthenewheavenandnewearth.‘Iwill behisGodandheshallbemyson(verse7):afinalnewbirth.Theholycityislike‘abride dressedupforherhusband’:awedding.Therewillbe‘nomoredeath,ormourningor weepingorpainanymore’:thegreatrecovery. And,centraltothiswholejoyfulpicture,and indeedexplainingwhatitallmeans,isthegreatpromise:‘Godhascometodwellwith humans.’ The new, permanent guest. 4TheKeyofDavidistheaccesstoawholenewworldcomingfromtheoldandthislove storyincreasesinexcitementasthechapterscomealong.Intheend,thegoodguykillsthe dragon, rescue the bride, and they all live happily ever after.Too good to be true? Well, it is true, and we know it because the Son of God was born.
Wright T. (2017) Advent for Everyone. A Journey with the Apostles. SPCK. London. p.108
Sometimes,itisusefultolookatamaptofindwhereweare.Thenwerealisethatplaces canbebiggerthanweoriginallythought,orindeedsmaller.Wethereforegainperspective. Thinkingaboutthedawn,thedayspringandtheamountofsunlightthatradiates,onecan notice that the Sun is indeed big:
WhenwerefertoGodastheSun,wearenotfullyawareofhowmuchbiggerheistous. Anyproblemthatwemayhave,heisaboveit.Anysituationdoesnotoverwhelmhimand whentheBiblesaysthatnoonewillsnatchusoutofthehandofGod(cf.John10:28b),it can become more realistic if we simply consider the anatomical dimensions of the Sun.With such bulb, who can be in the dark?
Intestamentaltimesroyaltywouldoftenrideondonkeys.In2Samuel16:2wearereminded that ‘donkeys be for the king's household to ride on’. Zechariah 9:9 adverts the same:Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!Lo, your king comes to you;triumphant and victorious is he,humble and riding on a donkey,on a colt, the foal of a donkey.WhenJesusenteredintoJerusalem(cf.Mt.21:7,Mk11:7,Lk19.35,Jn12:14-15)ridinga donkeyhewasmakingafulldeclarationofhiskingship.Asithasbeenstatedelsewhere, ‘accordingtotheDictionaryofBiblicalImagery,theridingofadonkeywasasignof royalty.FromthearchivesdugupintheBabyloniancityofMari,itwaslearnedthatthe ridingofadonkeyforentryintoacitywasanactofkingship.Thedonkeyandthemule were a staple in the Near Eastern royal ceremonies as well.Jesus'triumphalentryintoJerusalemwhileridingonadonkeywasnotjustanafterthought, usingwhateverbeastwasavailable.ThiswasawellconsideredpartofGod'splanfora specificpurpose.Althoughtheuseofthedonkeywaswidespreadinthosetimes,Jesus' ridingonthedonkeydidnotshowHimtobeapoororcommonmanbutaKing’.5This antiphon picks up many threads in the gospel narrative that place Jesus as the King of kingsandLordoflords.Heisaboveallthingsandaboveanyoneelsefromhisbirth.Heisthe Kingwhowillcomeonadonkeytobringshalom,peace,onearthandmercymild;Godand sinnersreconciled.6However,noteveryonewouldrecognisethis;notevenonourdayand age.J.R.R.Tolkiensaidthathisepicbooks,TheLordoftheRings,werenotallegoricalofthe ChristianGospel.Inotherwords,FrodowasnotarepresentationofChrist,SamwiseGangee wasnotthehelpoftheHolySpirit,andsoon.However,thereareinevitableechoestothe Gospelnarrativeallthroughthetrilogy.Inthislight, Aragorn,knownasStrider,isdepicted asthelegitimateheirofthekingdomofIsildur.Hefinallyascendstothethroneafterhaving lingeredaroundforawhileunnoticedbymanyofhistrueidentity.AtIncarnation,Jesusis commencinghistimeofascensiontothethrone,butnoteveryonenoticeswhohetrulyis. Thefeastofepiphany(whichwecelebrateonthesixthofJanuary)isaninstancewhensome peoplenoticeJesus’kingshipfromtheoutsetofhislife.Andtheybecomeradicallymoved (cf. Mat. 2:1-12).Do we recognise in this baby whom we celebrate in three days?Perhaps the words of George Herbert’s poem articulates the cry we ought to pray better:Teach me, my God and King,In all things thee to see,And what I do in any thing,To do it as for thee:Not rudely, as a beast,To runne into an action;But still to make thee prepossestAnd give it his perfection.A man that looks on glasse,On it may stay his eye;Or if he pleaseth, through it passe,And then the heav’n espie.5 Taken fromhttps://www.bibletools.org/index.cfm/fuseaction/topical.show/RTD/cgg/ID/20184/Riding-Donkey-asSign-Royalty.htm6 Hark! The herald angels sing.All may of thee partake:Nothing can be so mean,Which with his tincture (for thy sake)Will not grow bright and clean.A servant with this clauseMakes drudgerie divine:Who sweeps a room, as for thy laws,Makes that and th’ action fine.This is the famous stoneThat turneth all to gold:For that which God doth touch and ownCannot for lesse be told.7 “The Elixir” by George Herbert (1593-1633)
StIrenaeusthoughtthat‘KnowledgeofGodisgiventousthroughtheWord(theLogos),a revelation from the Father through love, from which all things are created. TheWordbecomesincarnatedwhenhumansareborn.BeforetheIncarnationofJesus Christ,humansweremadeintheimageofGod,butthiscouldnotbeproven,becausethe Word—theOneinwhoseimagehumansweremade—wasnotvisible. TheIncarnationmade theWordvisible,andtheimageandlikenessofGodashumanbeingdemonstratedourown similaritytotheFather.IrenaeusseestheHolySpiritastheconduitforhumanstoacquire thelikenessofGod.ItisthroughtheSonandtheHolySpiritthatweascendtothelifeof God, he taught.’8RomanCatholicprofessorRobertGreenbergsays,‘TheBenedictinemonksarrangedthese antiphonswithadefinitepurpose.Ifonestartswiththelasttitleandtakesthefirstletterof eachonce–Emmanuel,Rex,Oriens,Clavis,Radix,Adonai,Sapientia–Latinwordsero crasareformed,meaning,“Tomorrow,Iwillcome.”ThereforetheLordJesus,whose comingwehavepreparedforinAdventandwhomwehaveaddressedintheseseven Messianic titles, now speaks to us, “Tomorrow, I will come.”9Scriptures have influenced these Antiphons that the Church has used.They still influence hymns and songs and poem:O EmmanuelMalcolm GuiteO come, O come, and be our God-with-usO long-sought With-ness for a world without,O secret seed, O hidden spring of light.Come to us Wisdom, come unspoken Name,Come Root, and Key, and King, and holy Flame.O quickened little wick so tightly curled,Be folded with us into time and place,Unfold for us the mystery of graceAnd make a womb of all this wounded world.O heart of heaven beating in the earth,O tiny hope within our hopelessnessCome to be born, to bear us to our birth,To touch a dying world with new-made handsAnd make these rags of time our swaddling bands.10The natural reaction to identifying our true image through the Son, in theSpirit, is to worship God who is lavished love for us. Scripture attests this,and we become more fully human when we ourselves exercise the truthsthat the Bible tells us about which the Church has developed into act ofpraise through the antiphons.9 Slightly altered quote from Rutledge F. (2018) Advent. The Once and Future coming of Jesus Christ. Eerdmans. MI p. 40210 Guite M. (2015) Waiting on the Word. A poem a day for Advent, Christmas and Epiphany.Canterbury Press. Norwich. p 87Notes1.Davies.J.G.(Ed.)(1986).ANewDictionaryofLiturgy&Worship.SCMPress.London p. 25 ff.2.Inantiphonyorantiphonallyisoftenusedinsomeofficeswhenrecitingthepsalmswhich meanstherecitationisdividedandsaidalternativelyasawaytopreachthepsalmtoone another.Suchpractiseisinfluenceofmonasticismintosecularecclesiasticallife,which continues to this day within the walls of monasteries.3.ThisistheoldestMarianantiphonandprayerthatwehaveonrecord.Itdatesthethird century, and the text is as follows: 4. Davies. J.G. (Ed.) (1986). A New Dictionary of Liturgy & Worship. SCMPress. London p.26.5. Grove G. (Ed.) (1878). Dictionary of Music and Musicians. MacMillan. London. p.73.6.TakenfromtheresourcesfromtheParishChurchofStMatthew’sWestminster. https://www.stmw.org/o-antiphons.html7.Rvd.TreanorO.(1995)SevenBellstoBethlehem.TheOAntiphons.Gracewing. Herefordshire. p.3-4.8.AsAnglicanswehavethisbookaspartoftheapocryphabooks,ordeuterocanonical books.The39ArticlesoffaithoftheAnglicantraditionstatesthatthesebooksaresuitable forreadingbutnottowithdrawdoctrineoutofthem;inotherwords,itisfitforreadingbut notforgettingtheologythatmayaffectourunderstandingofsalvationandofGod.The Roman Catholic Church includes this book as part of their canon of the Bible.9.FromGreekDeca-logos(10wordsor10rules).ThisisthetechnicalwordfortheTen Commandments.10.Nehushtanisthenamegivenin2Kings18:4tothecopperserpentthatMosescastout for the salvation of the people of Israel during the desert wandering (cf. Numbers 21:4-9).11.GuiteM.(2015)WaitingontheWord.ApoemadayforAdvent,Christmasand Epiphany. Canterbury Press. Norwich. p.74.12. ThisisatermusedbyFrOliver TreanorinhisbookSevenBellsofBethlehemp.62.(see note 7).13. Taken from https://blog.cph.org/study/the-scriptural-depth-of-the-great-o-antiphons14. Taken from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5946282/15.GuiteM.(2015)WaitingontheWord.ApoemadayforAdvent,Christmasand Epiphany. Canterbury Press. Norwich. p.8416.TakenfromCampusCrusadeforChrist’swebpage,nowcalledCru/Agape: https://www.cru.org/us/en/train-and-grow/10-basic-steps/1-the-christian-adventure.4.html17.Rvd.TreanorO.(1995)SevenBellstoBethlehem.TheOAntiphons.Gracewing. Herefordshire. p.11518. The Gospel of St John is very big on the concept of abiding and remaining in God.
8FromBeStillandKnow,Silence(Hesychia):AMethodtoExperiencingGod.p.8 taken from https://ms.broadleafbooks.com/downloads/9781451470512Silence.pdf