O come, O come, Emmanuel

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
and ransom Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appears.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!

Waiting is really, really difficult.  For example, FBC is now four years old (which is hard for this blogger to believe), and there is no possible way that Christmas can come soon enough.  The Advent calendar has been opened before 7am every day this month.  Every time we see someone for whom a gift sits under our tree, the question gets asked, “can we give them their gift now?”  When a package arrives on our doorstep, it must be opened immediately.  Waiting is really hard when you are four years old.

Waiting is really hard when you are 33 years old, as well.  Today is the Monday of championship weekend in my fantasy football league’s 10th year.  I’m going up against my friend, colleague, and blogging arch-rival, Evan Garner in the championship match-up, and I have to wait all day to officially win.

championship

I mean, I guess I Gonzo and the SF defense could lose 20 points and Bowman could run two fumbles back for touchdowns, but it is highly unlikely.  Still, I’ll have to wait until Christmas Eve to lord my victory over Evan.  Waiting is really hard.

I think maybe that’s why the Church has taken to singing the O Antiphons in the waning days of Advent.  As the days grow shorter, the nights grow longer, and the coming of the Lord seems like it is never going to happen – we call out in unison for Jesus to come!  As we wait in exile in this world, awaiting our restoration in the Kingdom of God, we cry to the Lord, “How long!?!”

Yet, the refrain reminds us that the promises of God are secure.  We don’t finish our plea to come, with words of sadness, but rather we “Rejoice!” because we know that Emmanuel (God with us) has come and is coming again.  Alleluia!

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O come, Desire of nations

O come, Desire of nations,
bind in one the hearts of all mankind;
bid thou our sad divisions cease,
and be thyself our King of Peace.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!

The best laid plans.  The obviously haven’t been any posts on this blog on Friday or Saturday.  Who takes on an extra blogging challenge the week before Christmas?  Maybe I’ll get all the O Antiphons in next year, but I’m at least happy that I have time today to reflect on the O Antiphon that takes us all the way from Advent to the Last Supper.

Here, just three sleeps until the coming of the Messiah, we find ourselves in the upper room with Jesus and his disciples on the night of his betrayal as he utters that painful and powerful high priestly prayer, “That they all may be one.”  As followers of the King of Peace, we have a lot to learn about being “one.”  There’s some truth to the well worn joke:

A man was stranded on a desert island, all by himself for years and years.  When a ship happened upon him, he was eager to show his rescuers how he had survived for so long.  On the island, there were three buildings.  “The first,” he said, “is my home.”  “The second,” he continued, “is my Church.”  “And what about the third?” they asked.  “Oh that,” he replied, “that’s the church I used to go to.”

Following Jesus has, in many ways, become another marketplace for personal preference.  “I like hymns!’  “No, I like praise music.”  “That guy can’t preach well.”  “She really knows how to speak to me.”  “Yay justice!”  “Boo works righteousness.”  What were once issues of theology have, for the most part and for many, become issues of taste, and as Diana Butler Bass tell us, taste makes for a mess in a world with 82,000 possible coffee combinations at Starbucks.  The truth of the matter, and the focus of today’s Antiphon, is that God’s desire is for unity of mind and mission; that we put away the pettiness of taste and instead be about the work of the Kingdom.

Of course, it probably won’t come close to happening until Jesus’ second Advent, but we know that it will come.  Thankfully, Jesus prayed for it.  He prayed for us.

O come, thou Branch of Jesse’s tree…

O come, thou Branch of Jesse’s tree,
free them from Satan’s tyranny
that trust thy mighty power to save,
and give them victory o’er the grave.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!

There is a non-denominational church that sits just outside the entrance to my neighborhood.  As church’s are wont to have, this one has a sign board that is always good for a smug theological chuckle.  One particularly interesting post came a few months back when it read, “Would be willing to merge with a like minded church.  If interested call…”  That raise all sorts of questions about polity and ecclesiology for me, but that’s a digression for another day, perhaps.

Their current sign reads, “Jesus gave his gift on a tree, not under it.”  I always find the co-mingling of the Incarnation and Crucifixion to be interesting.  I’m certain that this particular church does not hold Good Friday services, saving the agony of the cross for Easter so as to fit a very narrow understanding of the salvific work of Jesus, there I go digressing again.  I can’t help but wonder why it is that the cross has to invade the manger?  I mean, one is not complete without the other, I get that.  The cross means nothing if Jesus’ isn’t the Word made flesh who dwelt among us.  The Incarnation is a quaint idea without some sort of soteriological event to back it up.  But do they have to invade each other’s space?  We don’t preach the manger on Good Friday, do we?

I was feeling all high and mighty about our better developed, more nuanced theology when I came to the O Antiphon for December 19th and found, what else, the cosmic battle between good and evil, playing out in one of my favorite Advent/Christmas hymns.  Maybe I should go back and reevaluate just how smart I think I am.

O come, thou Lord of might…

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.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!

For the second time in a week, we find ourselves having to deal with an image of God that has gone out of fashion in recent years, the Lord of might.  Especially this time of year, we tend to want to picture Jesus as the meek and mild sort.

But if the Scriptural tradition is clear on anything, God is far from meek and mild.  Sure, he shows up for Elijah in the form of a still, soft voice, but elsewhere God is imaged as a pillar of fire and a cloud of smoke.  God commands the Hebrews to destroy every man, woman, and child they encounter on their way into the promised land and he rains down fire upon the people of Sodom and Gomorrah.  He’s even described as being jealous and uses Israel’s enemies to teach them a lesson or 10.

Yet all of this power and might is for a purpose: it is to lead us to the Kingdom.  Like a parent punishing a child, God uses might to attempt to bring his people back in to line.  More often than not, it wasn’t actual might that was used, but rather the awe and fear that was ingrained in His chosen people that did the trick.  Like the example in the verse of Veni, Veni, God’s might was framed in cloud, majesty and awe, calling his people to follow his lead toward the Kingdom.  It didn’t always work out well: for the people of Israel, for us, or for God, quite frankly, but the goal was always calling them all forward in relationship.

Ultimately, that power was made manifest in the most vulnerable of beings – a newborn child.  God joined history to redeem it and to redeem us, but more on that in tomorrow’s antiphon.

O come, thou Wisdom from on high…

O come, thou Wisdom from on high,
who orderest all things mightily;
to us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go.

Rejoice!  Rejoice!  Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!

The Wisdom tradition as it is associated with Jesus is probably the deepest and least discussed image of Messiahship in the Church, and I’m convinced that the fact that Wisdom is a feminine noun and imaged as women throughout the Old Testament is the key reason it is left wanting in the tradition.  In fact, it too quite a bit of searching to find a professionally recorded version of Veni, Veni on YouTube that includes this verse.

As the Word (Logos) of God, Jesus, especially in John’s prologue, is very intentionally associated with the idea of Wisdom (Sophia).  According to William Placher (Jesus the Savior, 2001), this connection is the result of a growing Wisdom tradition in the Second Temple period, and Christian attempts to explain a Triune God in the Monotheistic language of their tradition.

“Wisdom exists from eternity to eternity.  God made the earth through this divine Wisdom; Wisdom is  the radiance or image of God, the other of all good things.  By Wisdom ‘monarchs reign, and rulers decree what is just.’  Wisdom functions as the means by which God works salvation.” (p. 23)

He goes on to write:

“For Christians looking for a way to talk about the divine Christ who was distinct from the one he called Father without betraying Jewish monotheism, Wisdom offered an already available category.  Paul called Christ ‘the wisdom of God.’ (1 Cor. 1:24).  Just as Jews had earlier done with Wisdom, Paul and other New Testament writers identified Christ as the one through whom all things were made, the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation, and the radiance of God’s glory.” (p. 24)

We lose something when we ignore the role that Wisdom plays in the earliest understandings of who Jesus is and how his relationship with the Father changed the world.  We miss out on a way to speak to God’s transcendence of gender when we ignore the development of a theology of Wisdom in Proverbs and the Wisdom of Solomon.  It is important as we prepare to move from waiting for the Messiah to the birth of Jesus that we remember those in ancient days who expected the arrival of the anointed one who would show us Wisdom, God’s divine mind and plan, and to rejoice that those expectations were fulfilled in the one we call Emmanuel.