Veni, Veni: The Great O Antiphons
Today in chapel we had a service that prayed, preached, and sung the O Antiphons of Advent. Traditionally, the O Antiphons were sung consecutively beginning on December 17 and ending on December 23. For our students, we experienced them all at once, but for you our readers, we offer them one at a time (albeit beginning one day late!). The brief homiletical reflections on each of the antiphons was prepared by Professor Jeffrey Oschwald, who used as source material a service written by the late Professor Robert Bertram. Bertram’s original appeared first in RESOURCES for Youth Ministry 1 (January—April 1969). Copyright © 1969 The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
We are Advent People. We wait. We wait. We hope for what we do not see. But the nights of our Advent are long, and the nights of our Advent are cold, and dark. We grow weary and lose hope. Our hearts grow cold. And, in the end, the darkness seeps into our souls.
For generation after generation, the Advent people of God have encountered these problems. Those who have gone before us, however, found a way to “hold fast to the hope” that they confessed. They found a way to renew their joy and to rekindle their passion. They simply took these problems to the Lord in prayer.
During the last week of their annual celebration of Advent, when they gathered for evening prayer, our fathers and mothers in the Faith voiced together their Advent longing. The words they used, these antiphons, were said before and after their signing of the Magnificat- Mary’s Advent song of joyous hopefulness. Beginning with the seventeenth of December, each night had its own special antiphon. These prayers reminded the people of God that Emmanuel would indeed come again and save them. In this promise, they found strength.
In the coming days, we will use these prayers, and the hymn they inspired, to press our own fervent Advent longing. May this good news of Emmanuel prepare our hearts to welcome Him aright when He comes!
O Wisdom, proceeding from the mouth of the Most High, pervading and permeating all creation, mightily and sweetly ordering all things: Come and teach us the way of understanding.
Is there anyone here who feels that his or her life is not “mightily and sweetly ordered”? Is there anyone here who suddenly ﬁnds himself saying, “All I have are answers I can’t trust to questions I don’t understand?” Is there anyone here who is searching for a wisdom that will not turn out, in the end, to be vanity, or deception, or just more human folly? Then we say to that person, “Brother, Sister, take heart! The Wisdom from above now comes down to you. He comes from highest Heaven to your world, down to the manger, down to the cross. Emmanuel knows all things, and He knows you. He comes to teach you God’s foolishness, which is ‘the way of wisdom.’ He is God-with-us and He is with you, too. So rejoice and sing:”
O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
Who ord’rest all things mightily;
To us the path of knowledge show,
And teach us in her ways to go.
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!
O Adonai, and Ruler of the House of Israel, Who appeared to Moses in the burning bush and gave him the Law on Sinai: Come and with an outstretched arm redeem us.
Is there anyone here who feels that he or she is still trapped in the ancient bondage in Egypt? Is there anyone here who feels that she is a slave to sin, or guilt, or death? That the promise of a new ruler and a new law is only the promise of new oppression? Who fears that no one can guide him through the wilderness to the Promised Land of Freedom? Then we say to that person, “Brother, Sister, take heart! ‘When the fullness of time had come, God came, born of a woman, born under the law to redeem those who are under the law.’ His name is Emmanuel. He is God-with-us and He is with you, too. So rejoice and sing:”
O come, o come, Thou Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes on Sinai’s height
In ancient times didst give the Law
In cloud and majesty and awe.
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!