22nd December Antiphon O King of the nations and Desired of all, you are the cornerstone that unites all people: Come, and save humankind 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! 15 Presbyterian 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 students asking 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. 16 All 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 shall come’. 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 rejected has 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 64:8 Pray with the antiphon O King of the nations and Desired of all, you are the cornerstone that unites all people: Come, and save humankind whom you formed out of clay. For Reflection Picking 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 December Antiphon O Emmanuel, our King and Lawgiver, the Expected of Nations and their Saviour: come, and save us, O Lord our God! Arguably the most important word in this final antiphon is the word Immanuel (Emmanuel in Latin), which means God with us. The ideal of this name is highly linked to the prophesy of the prophet Isaiah 7:14: Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son and shall name him Immanuel. This prophecy was written several centuries before Jesus’ birth. In the times of Isaiah, it is probable that King Jehoahaz II of Judah (King Ahaz) received this message from the prophet with great encouragement because he saw it realised in his own lifetime; ‘like the birth of a child to a maiden which guarantees a future event to the elderly who, though they themselves must die, know that their seed lives on. This young woman of Isaiah’s time was she perhaps giving birth to Ahaz’s song? – would call her child ‘God-with-us’, to show her own firm belief in her country’s future.’ 17 The Gospels pick up this Immanuel prophecy and give it a renewed and more powerful strength to it. Now, this hopeful prayer, this everlasting reality over eight centuries has become once more flesh and bone, although in a much truer reality. The presence of God has been with the people of Israel all along (cf. Ex. 33:15-16; Josh. 1:5, 9 and 17; Ps.20, 21; Jer. 1:7-8) and it is now in the person of Jesus Christ in whom this prophecy acquires a deeper meaning, a bigger continuation in the plan of God towards his relationship with his creation. The God who was intimate, comes now in a more tangible way, the closest he can get; that is, he comes to be among us and in us. The idea that God is with us shed a great deal of light to God’s trinitarian ontology. The Gospel of Matthew specifically starts with allusions to Isaiah’s Immanuel prophecy and finishes with the same idea in chapter 28: And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age. Matthew 28:20b Jesus comes to be with us and, through the power of the Holy Spirit, he does not leave. He remains with us for eternity now. The trinitarian reality becomes therefore evident in that the Father is God, the Son is God and the Holy Spirit is God; three persons and one God. Having God the Spirit with us ensures that we also have God the Son with us, and through the Son, we can have access to God the Father as well. With his Incarnation, God fulfils his commitment to be in relationship with us. It also shows that He is faithful and does not go back on his word. It means that his covenantal love transcends our failures (cf. Matt. 26:40 and Mk. 14 37) and that our sins has no power against the love of God. Like the painting of Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel, God has been the one initiating. He has stretched out his divine and uncorrupted hand so that our reluctant, laid-back hearts may be able to reach to him. Once we yield our will to Jesus, the Holy Spirit then can move us to join the cry of the Church and say: Amen, come Lord Jesus! Revelation 22:20 Pray with the antiphon O Emmanuel, our King and Lawgiver, the Expected of Nations and their Saviour: come, and save us, O Lord our God! For Reflection
Appendix There are some extra material below for further enrichment regarding each of the antiphons and their Scriptural references. 1
Rev. Malcoln Guite’s sonnet on wisdom is particularly poignant and very thought-provoking: O Sapientia I 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: ‘Although invoked as ‘Leader of (the new) Israel’, Jesus is not addressed as ‘Moses’ but ‘O Adonai’. It is an acclamation shot through with the most sacred associations.’ (p.31) While Jesus could be regarded as the new Moses, this title does not stick as much because he is much more than that. He surpasses the roles of Moses. He is also a new Adan, a new Moses, but also a new Isaac as well; a new Esther, a new David and a new Isaac. He is God almighty, so he requires a deeper name than any of these important figures. Hence, he receives the name above all names (cf. Phil. 2:9). Names in the Hebrew culture of testamental times were remarkably important. Their connections to the identity of the whole being was inseparable. To refer to a name was to conceptually refer to the whole individual. By extension the treatment of a name also meant automatic treatment to the whole person. God gives the people of God his name and this sets the relationship between God and Israel at a new level, Fr Treanor suggests. It is a level of intimacy which was not present before. To put them in terms of philosopher Martin Buber, the relation was formerly that of creator and creature (I-it). However, with the revealing of God’s personal name, God is giving much more than an identity recognition; this opening up of offering creation the possibility to enter into the realm of God’s reality, it no longer functions as a I-it relationship but as a I-you relationship. This real connection is remarkably significant for the people of Israel as the chosen people. It is a step deeper in identity. Thus, the chosen people has become God’s people through God’s revelation of the Holy Name. Furthermore, the name becomes the epitome of the being, as previously mentioned. Thus, using God’s Holy Name must be meticulously handled with care. The Hebrew people gets this point particularly clear from the Decalogue; especially the third commandment: Thou shall not take the name of God in vain (cf. Ex. 20:7), ‘[w]hich is why they developed the custom of never using the name at all. In their moral code the command against doing so was second only to the prohibition on idolatry. The two precepts were akin: first, respect for the Person, then respect for his name. In the Semitic mentality the name and the person were one reality. The name was the person. To defile 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
The concept of the tree of Jesse was preserved throughout the ages in Christianity and continued developing. Such development is due to iconography in the history of Christianity, especially guided by the hand of the Orthodox Church. Some of the most known trees in popular devotion can be found in two icons concretely. The Orthodox icon of the Rod of Jesse with the mystic flower (the Blessed Virgin Mary) blooming from the stem was written between the twelfth century to the sixteenth century. The Greek Orthodox Church knows it by the Root of Jesse (Ρίζα Ιεσσαί). The Russian Orthodox Church calls it the Tree of Jesse (Древо Иессеево). Perhaps, this icon is the most accurate depiction in image (icon) of the 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:
This icon alludes to John 15:5 (depicted in the open bible of the icon), and the people around them are not Christ’s biological family, but rather the twelve apostles, the vine (άμπελοs in Greek) extends Jesus’ family now to all believers through the apostolic succession of these twelve men and by the power of the Holy Spirit in baptism. An argument can be raised therefore about the true family of Jesus now; whereby, holding both icons together, as well as bearing Isaiah 11:1, and John 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 my mother, and who are my brothers?’ And pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.’ The family of Jesus transcends the blood of Jesse and is yet fulfilled in the Church through Jesus. The promises made in the Old Testament about the tree of Jesse are met in Jesus and continues forward to us through his interceding.
The Key of David and the Cross of Christ have more things in common than one can find at first glance. Fr Treanor says: In the ancient Middle East such a key was a cumbersome affair, given the system of crossbars and bolts for securing the great doors of fortresses and strongholds. Constructed of solid wood nearly a foot in length, and spiked with metal pins at one end, it was best carried on the shoulder. Eventually it became a visible emblem of weighty office by the very manner in which was borne. The analogy between the steward’s key and the cross of Christ hardly needs to be elucidated. 3
h t t p s : / / w w w . b o y d b u c k i n g h a m . c o m / 2 0 2 0 / 0 2 / m a n - o f - s o r r o w s - i n j u r i e s - s u f f e r e d - b y - j i m - c a v i e z e l - w h i l e - filming-the-passion-of-the-christ/
Jesus carried the cross on his shoulder so that everything were put to right. It was the 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.
that anyone can come to the Father. The incarnation of Christ is not just an important historical event. It transcends the event and looks into the future; it looks into calvary and the cross. It looks through the empty tomb to the second coming and beyond that. He will restore everything, and the garden (paradise) will be fully realised in the city of God, the new Jerusalem. In his book Advent for everyone, Bishop Tom Wright refers to the concept what is going to be new through the appearance of Jesus in the picture. He also uses Revelation 21, and he explains: Birth, marriage, full recovery from a long and [dangerous] illness, the experience of someone new coming to live with you. All these, interestingly, feature in the list of images John uses as he builds up this breathtaking picture of the new heaven and new earth. ‘I will be his God and he shall be my son (verse 7): a final new birth. The holy city is like ‘a bride dressed up for her husband’: a wedding. There will be ‘no more death, or mourning or weeping or pain any more’: the great recovery. And, central to this whole joyful picture, and indeed explaining what it all means, is the great promise: ‘God has come to dwell with humans.’ The new, permanent guest. 4 The Key of David is the access to a whole new world coming from the old and this love story increases in excitement as the chapters come along. In the end, the good guy kills the 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, it is useful to look at a map to find where we are. Then we realise that places can be bigger than we originally thought, or indeed smaller. We therefore gain perspective. Thinking about the dawn, the dayspring and the amount of sunlight that radiates, one can notice that the Sun is indeed big:
We are not even one of the largest planets of the solar system. Our Sun is an incredibly big planet in comparison to us. And this is not the biggest star there is:
h t t p s : / / w w w . q u o r a . c o m / H o w - b i g - i s - o u r - s u n - c o m p a r e d - t o - o t h e r - s t a r s - o u r - solar-system-compared-to-others-and-our-galaxy-to-others
When we refer to God as the Sun, we are not fully aware of how much bigger he is to us. Any problem that we may have, he is above it. Any situation does not overwhelm him and when the Bible says that no one will snatch us out of the hand of God (cf. John 10:28b), it can become more realistic if we simply consider the anatomical dimensions of the Sun. With such bulb, who can be in the dark?
In testamental times royalty would often ride on donkeys. In 2 Samuel 16:2 we are reminded 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. When Jesus entered into Jerusalem (cf. Mt. 21:7, Mk 11:7, Lk 19.35, Jn 12:14-15) riding a donkey he was making a full declaration of his kingship. As it has been stated elsewhere, ‘according to the Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, the riding of a donkey was a sign of royalty. From the archives dug up in the Babylonian city of Mari, it was learned that the riding of a donkey for entry into a city was an act of kingship. The donkey and the mule were a staple in the Near Eastern royal ceremonies as well. Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem while riding on a donkey was not just an afterthought, using whatever beast was available. This was a wellconsidered part of God's plan for a specific purpose. Although the use of the donkey was widespread in those times, Jesus' riding on the donkey did not show Him to be a poor or common man but a King’.5 This antiphon picks up many threads in the gospel narrative that place Jesus as the King of kings and Lord of lords. He is above all things and above anyone else from his birth. He is the King who will come on a donkey to bring shalom, peace, on earth and mercy mild; God and sinners reconciled.6 However, not everyone would recognise this; not even on our day and age. J.R.R. Tolkien said that his epic books, The Lord of the Rings, were not allegorical of the Christian Gospel. In other words, Frodo was not a representation of Christ, Samwise Gangee was not the help of the Holy Spirit, and so on. However, there are inevitable echoes to the Gospel narrative all through the trilogy. In this light, Aragorn, known as Strider, is depicted as the legitimate heir of the kingdom of Isildur. He finally ascends to the throne after having lingered around for a while unnoticed by many of his true identity. At Incarnation, Jesus is commencing his time of ascension to the throne, but not everyone notices who he truly is. The feast of epiphany (which we celebrate on the sixth of January) is an instance when some people notice Jesus’ kingship from the outset of his life. And they become radically moved (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 prepossest And 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 from https://www.bibletools.org/index.cfm/fuseaction/topical.show/RTD/cgg/ID/20184/Riding-Donkey-asSign-Royalty.htm 6 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 clause Makes drudgerie divine: Who sweeps a room, as for thy laws, Makes that and th’ action fine. This is the famous stone That turneth all to gold: For that which God doth touch and own Cannot for lesse be told. 7 “The Elixir” by George Herbert (1593-1633)
St Irenaeus thought that ‘Knowledge of God is given to us through the Word (the Logos), a revelation from the Father through love, from which all things are created. The Word becomes incarnated when humans are born. Before the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, humans were made in the image of God, but this could not be proven, because the Word—the One in whose image humans were made—was not visible. The Incarnation made the Word visible, and the image and likeness of God as human being demonstrated our own similarity to the Father. Irenaeus sees the Holy Spirit as the conduit for humans to acquire the likeness of God. It is through the Son and the Holy Spirit that we ascend to the life of God, he taught.’ 8 Roman Catholic professor Robert Greenberg says, ‘The Benedictine monks arranged these antiphons with a definite purpose. If one starts with the last title and takes the first letter of each once Emmanuel, Rex, Oriens, Clavis, Radix, Adonai, Sapientia Latin words ero cras are formed, meaning, “Tomorrow, I will come.” Therefore the Lord Jesus, whose coming we have prepared for in Advent and whom we have addressed in these seven Messianic titles, now speaks to us, “Tomorrow, I will come.” 9 Scriptures have influenced these Antiphons that the Church has used. They still influence hymns and songs and poem: O Emmanuel Malcolm Guite O come, O come, and be our God-with-us O 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 grace And make a womb of all this wounded world. O heart of heaven beating in the earth, O tiny hope within our hopelessness Come to be born, to bear us to our birth, To touch a dying world with new-made hands And make these rags of time our swaddling bands. 10 The natural reaction to identifying our true image through the Son, in the Spirit, is to worship God who is lavished love for us. Scripture attests this, and we become more fully human when we ourselves exercise the truths that the Bible tells us about which the Church has developed into act of praise through the antiphons. 9 Slightly altered quote from Rutledge F. (2018) Advent. The Once and Future coming of Jesus Christ. Eerdmans. MI p. 402 10 Guite M. (2015) Waiting on the Word. A poem a day for Advent, Christmas and Epiphany. Canterbury Press. Norwich. p 87 Notes 1. Davies. J.G. (Ed.) (1986). A New Dictionary of Liturgy & Worship. SCM Press. London p. 25 ff. 2. In antiphony or antiphonally is often used in some offices when reciting the psalms which means the recitation is divided and said alternatively as a way to preach the psalm to one another. Such practise is influence of monasticism into secular ecclesiastical life, which continues to this day within the walls of monasteries. 3. This is the oldest Marian antiphon and prayer that we have on record. It dates the third century, and the text is as follows: 4. Davies. J.G. (Ed.) (1986). A New Dictionary of Liturgy & Worship. SCM Press. London p.26. 5. Grove G. (Ed.) (1878). Dictionary of Music and Musicians. MacMillan. London. p.73. 6. Taken from the resources from the Parish Church of St Matthew’s Westminster. https://www.stmw.org/o-antiphons.html 7. Rvd. Treanor O. (1995) Seven Bells to Bethlehem. The O Antiphons. Gracewing. Herefordshire. p.3-4. 8. As Anglicans we have this book as part of the apocrypha books, or deuterocanonical books. The 39 Articles of faith of the Anglican tradition states that these books are suitable for reading but not to withdraw doctrine out of them; in other words, it is fit for reading but not for getting theology that may affect our understanding of salvation and of God. The Roman Catholic Church includes this book as part of their canon of the Bible. 9. From Greek Deca- logos (10 words or 10 rules). This is the technical word for the Ten Commandments. 10. Nehushtan is the name given in 2 Kings 18:4 to the copper serpent that Moses cast out for the salvation of the people of Israel during the desert wandering (cf. Numbers 21:4-9). 11. Guite M. (2015) Waiting on the Word. A poem a day for Advent, Christmas and Epiphany. Canterbury Press. Norwich. p.74. 12. This is a term used by Fr Oliver Treanor in his book Seven Bells of Bethlehem p.62. (see note 7). 13. Taken from https://blog.cph.org/study/the-scriptural-depth-of-the-great-o-antiphons 14. Taken from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5946282/ 15. Guite M. (2015) Waiting on the Word. A poem a day for Advent, Christmas and Epiphany. Canterbury Press. Norwich. p.84 16. Taken from Campus Crusade for Christ’s webpage, now called Cru/Agape: https://www.cru.org/us/en/train-and-grow/10-basic-steps/1-the-christian-adventure.4.html 17. Rvd. Treanor O. (1995) Seven Bells to Bethlehem. The O Antiphons. Gracewing. Herefordshire. p.115 18. The Gospel of St John is very big on the concept of abiding and remaining in God.
8 From Be Still and Know, Silence (Hesychia): A Method to Experiencing God. p.8 taken from https://ms.broadleafbooks.com/downloads/9781451470512Silence.pdf
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