O Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush, and gave him the law on Sinai: Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm.
“I am the Lord. I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as God Almighty (El Shaddai), but by my name ‘The Lord’ (Adonai) I did not make myself known to them” (Exodus 6:2-3)
“These are the commandments that the Lord gave to Moses for the people of Israel on Mount Sinai” (Leviticus 27:34)
‘How shall I sing that majesty which angels do admire?’ John Mason’s hymn reminds us of the impossibility of truly expressing the glory and wonder of God’s reality, a mystery beyond our words or imaginations. Yet this is the God who encountered Moses as ‘I am who I am’ and is our ‘I am’ too, one whom we can call Adonai or Lord.
Our Jewish friends recognise the name of God – the ‘I am’ or Hebrew YHWH – as so holy that when reading aloud they use the Hebrew word ‘Adonai’ to express their reverence. Here in the second of the seven Advent Antiphons, the writer also uses the Hebrew ‘Adonai’ to pray to the sacred mystery that is YHWH.
That name, YHWH, was given to Moses in the majestic fire of the burning bush. There God is revealed as the God of Abraham Isaac and Jacob, but more than that: Moses asks for God’s name and the mysterious reply is that ‘I am who I am’ (also translated ‘I will be-there’). Here is a God of past, present and future – an abiding presence that brings freedom and liberation. The Antiphon speaks of the giving of the Law at Sinai to bring justice and order and the outstretched arm (Exodus 6.1) that lets the enslaved and suffering people of Israel go.
Here, condensed in four lines is the very heart of Israel’s experience of God, but it doesn’t stop there. The verse connects that reality to our own lives now, praying that the ‘I am’, revealed to Moses long ago will ‘come and redeem us’. In this Advent time we are led step by step to Emmanuel, the ‘God with us’ in Jesus Christ, the ‘I am’ made flesh and blood, born in Bethlehem, suffering with and for the world, made present among us today, as Living ‘Adonai’.
God of many names, but one reality we thank you for reaching out to humanity time and time again, speaking words of grace and liberation. Come redeem us from all that traps and imprisons us. Stretch out your mighty arm and bring your peace and justice. in the name of Jesus, our Adonai.
The Rev’d Terry Hinks, Minister of Trinity, High Wycombe and Cores End URCs