The O Antiphons

In the western liturgical traditions the last seven days of advent include singing these seven chants—they would be largely unknown to churches like mine whose hymnody owes more to Hillsong than ancient Latin verse.

Except, I bet you recognise them. They’re the content of the only advent hymn most of us know, O Come O Come Emmanuel. They’re sung in reverse order, but spell out an acrostic (in Latin, so you’d never notice) of Ero Cras, or “Tomorrow, I will be”. Which you might not think much of, but underscores that the medieval writers of the hymn felt that advent was about the second coming, about waiting, about looking forwards. Advent is orientated towards tomorrow because tomorrow is the day of the Lord.

Tomorrow is the day we will know these seven truths about Jesus—when he returns.

O Wisdom

The coming Messiah would be the wisdom of God (Isaiah 28), the son who learned wisdom (Proverbs), or to put it in New Testament terms: the Messiah would be the Word (John 1).

Jesus is the wisdom of God. And a strange wisdom, arriving in weakness as a baby, to win in weakness by dying on a cross. His way is not the way of the world. His way is dying to self, repenting and forgiving. His way is a bloodied cross and a lamb with the appearance of one slain (Revelation 5)

O Lord

The coming Messiah is the Lord—Yahweh, the God of the Old Testament. The Antiphon and the song both go on to speak of the giver of the Law on Sinai, the one who appeared at the burning bush. The Messiah is Yahweh, Yahweh, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, very gracious and faithful (Exodus 34).

God is coming himself, and he did, and he will again.

O Root of Jesse

In Isaiah 11 we are told that the one coming will be a root of Jesse, David’s father. The Davidic throne, long abandoned by the time Christ came, will be occupied again by a rightful heir. This is the stuff of every faery tale, somewhere out in the woods there’s a rightful king to fill the throne and bring peace to the land—which is because all stories tell the true Story.

Jesus was the rightful king, entering Jerusalem on a donkey to show his kingship (it might not look it to us, but that was a claim of royal authority in a nation that expected their kings to be servants), and returning at the end of history on a white charger robed in red.

O Key of David

Continuing the same theme, in Isaiah 22 we are told the Messiah would be given the key of David to open doors and shut them. Which he did (Revelation 3) not only as the rightful king of Israel, and therefore of the world, but having wrested the keys of hell from death’s dank fingers he opened the door for all to enter the presence of God who place their trust in him.

This is a king over death, a king over life, a king over the world—a conqueror to lead prisoners out of darkness into glorious light.

O Dayspring

When you hear ‘Dayspring’ or ‘Morning Star’ it’s probably best to think ‘O Rising Sun’. The Messiah in Isaiah 9 is the light who comes on a people of deep darkness.

Jesus is Light himself, and one day after the Sun is ripped from the sky and the heavens torn open, we will for the first time find out what Light looks like. This is the hope we have: after darkness, light.

O King of the Nations

In Isaiah 9 we hear that the Messiah is to have authority and government over all the world, ending war as his just judgement (Isaiah 2) reigns across every land.

We often speak of his kingdom, but when the rule of Jesus extends everywhere after he returns to us, we will see what it is to be ruled by a Prince of Peace. Solomon’s kingdom, the closest the world has ever come, will be like a candle to the Sun.

O God with us

In Isaiah 7 we are told that there is a sign to see when the anointed ruler—the Messiah—is coming: a virgin shall conceive and give birth to a son who will be called Emmanuel, which is Hebrew means God with us.

God became a baby in a feeding trough, he stooped from the heavens and came to earth. He made himself low enough to lift us up. God in the manger is the gospel as much as God on the cross or God bursting forth from the tomb in the quiet of the night—God in the manger means God has come to be with us.

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

Photo by veeterzy on Unsplash

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