We look at the O Antiphons traditionally sung in convents and monasteries this week.
Isaiah 11:2-3 & Isaiah 28:29
“The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord, and his delight shall be the fear of the Lord.”
“Wonderful is His counsel and great is His wisdom.”
O come, Thou Wisdom from on high, And order all things, far and nigh; To us the path of knowledge show, And cause us in her ways to go. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel.
First, a brief explanation: as you know an antiphon is a short response generally used in the setting of a psalm. The O antiphons are used from Dec 17th to Dec 23rd and all use, in Latin, an attribute of the expected Messiah. Using the initial (Latin) letters of these titles in reverse order on Dec 24th they spell out Ero Cras, which being interpreted means “Tomorrow I come”. We will be reflecting on these Antiphons in the coming days.
Today’s antiphon is O Wisdom (O Sapientia). After a particularly odd series of comments on “how to do … “ at a business meeting someone, who happened to be a church secretary, commented to me “there’s now’t so uncommon as common sense”. I would have been delighted if someone at that meeting had been able to understand another’s point of view. I would have been thrilled if someone else had the strength of character to speak in debate, and if someone had been wise enough to draw all the individually odd comments together I would have been delighted.
Isaiah prophesied that the expected one of the Lord will not only allow the spirit of the Lord to rest upon him but will also allow that spirit to bring wisdom, understanding, counsel, strength, knowledge, fear and then to be delighted! Not only that but the prophecy continues expecting the Messiah to have all these abilities so that people would find his counsel wonderful and his wisdom great. It’s difficult enough to allow the spirit of the Lord to rest upon me; I always have this picture of the spirit, in shape of a dove, trying to rest on a shoulder and being brushed off with irritation. It takes tremendous acceptance and adaptability to allow her to rest long enough to bring all these gifts. Early Christians were so excited by this series of prophecies of amazing gifts that they worked out these celebratory antiphons to culminate in “tomorrow I come”. Being over-excited at the approach of Christmas in not the prerogative of twentieth and twenty first century children – it’s the ground state for Christians as Advent reaches it’s climax.
Give us, O Lord,
the wisdom to enjoy this season
as the exciting Christian event it is;
not to fall into the folly of thinking
“it’s only for children”
except when we remember –
we are all your children
and this season is for each one.
Give us the wisdom to answer simply
those who question what this season is
and not to fall into the folly of bemoaning
the probable usurping of a pagan event,
for Christmas happens every time someone gains faith.
Give us the wisdom to be your children.
The Rev’d Ruth Browning is a retired minister and member of Thornbury URC in Gloucestershire.