“Advent is the time we are given to welcome the Lord who comes to encounter us, and also to verify our longing for God, to look forward and prepare ourselves for Christ’s return.”
On Friday at our team’s Advent retreat, a portion of the time was devoted to reflecting on the "O Antiphons," the antiphons that go with Evening Prayer from December 17-23. Most of us might know them as the way the verses in O Come, O Come Emmanuel begin. They are these beautifully ancient images taken from the hopes that the Jewish people had of their Messiah that we believe come to fulfillment in Christ’s incarnation. The Church has been praying them since the eighth century. When you read the corresponding verses from Isaiah, you can almost feel the desperation and longing – for "wisdom" and "a leader," for "radiant dawn" and for freedom. On Sunday afternoon my parish had a little caroling and Christmas tree blessing. We could all place an ornament with our name on the tree as we sang the hymns. I happened to be standing in the back and I watched as my fellow parishioners approached the tree one by one. As we sang "O Come All Ye Faithful," I felt blessed to see so many familiar faces and I thought about some of their individual stories especially over this past year – the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job, injuries and illness, pandemic fatigue and anxiety. As the sunlight dimmed in the church and the unaccompanied voices continued to sing, I realized the cries of the Old Testament Jews in Isaiah and the prayers of the eighth century Church aren’t just compelling in their imagery, they are familiar in their content. The antiphons are still our cries. They are still our prayers.
Now, anyone with an elementary school Catholic education might have been able to articulate that, but at least for me, the reality of that fact struck me differently yesterday. The magnitude and comprehensiveness of these seven different titles of Christ among us left me breathless. Is the history of salvation something that I study or something through which I realize I am living? Do the prayers of the Church read like an ancient manuscript or my unwritten intercessions? As we enter into this fourth week of Advent and the remaining four O Antiphons, let’s give thanks for the mystery of God’s timelessness and the innumerable ways He comes to rescue us in the here and now.
Do you see what I see?