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In this antiphon the Church remembers Sinai.  The Lord is the Lawgiver.  Adonai is another name for the LORD.  Adonai is used about 340 times in the Old Testament and is usually translated as Lord.  Adonai was used in Israel as a substitute for the divine Name, Yahweh, the Tetragrammaton.  Adonai evokes the majesty of the one true God who gave His Law on Sinai and before that appeared in the burning bush to Moses.  When Adonai appeared to Moses it was with the promise of the divine Name:  I AM.  The great I AM would save His people Israel from slavery in Egypt.  He gave the Law to save us from ourselves, for without law we resort to brutality in word and deed.  The Old Adam needs God’s Law.

Flannery O’Connor was a novelist and short story writer and for what it’s worth, one of my favorite writers.  She lived a short life, because of lupus, and she was a devout Roman Catholic living in Milledgeville, Georgia, in the “Christ obsessed south”, as she put it.  After she published a novel, Wise Blood, it was reviewed in Time and  she wrote to a friend about the attention it was receiving: 

Although I am a Catholic writer, I don’t care to get labeled as such in the popular sense of it, as it is then assumed that you have some religious ax to grind.  However, since the review in Time, my mail has been full of attempts to save me from the Church…

This letter is dated 23 April 1960.  Not much has changed of the secularist society trying to save us from the Church or Christians from Christianity, or believers from the Bible, or the faithful from the Lord.  Curious isn’t it?  By so saving us,  then we won’t be narrow minded and mean spirited.  Granted that there are such in the Church, yet it was by God’s grace, that ‘narrow-minded and  mean spirited’ Christians developed schools and universities, hospitals and orphanages, cared for the dying, fed the hungry, did not abort their young, nor sought personal revenge.  They did so not to be saved but  because they were saved from their own idols.  Why did Christians so serve?  God’s Law showed them by His Law the way to go, and when in sin, the Way out:  He sent His Son to bear our sin and be our Savior.    

In a secularist post World War I Germany, which earlier in the century had developed a Biblical scholarship denying the Bible as God’s Word, it was ripe in it’s secularist liberalism for open mindedness.  It has to be remembered that the Nazis were both anti-Jewish and anti-Christian. The path to tyranny is a Church-less, Word-less, God-less, Law-less, Christ-less world. It’s in the novel Wise Blood that Hazel Motes becomes a street preacher proclaiming “the Church without Christ”.   Sadly timely. The soul is made to adore and without the Lord, will adore the idols of this world and the Leader can step into the temple of our souls and the soul becomes the haunt of the new Baals.  It is into the idolatrous world that the Lord came, born of the Virgin Mary, to save us from those trying to save us from the Lord…and for our would be ‘saviors’  as well.  And this is the reason the Church is called to pray and sing till the end of all days:

Oh, come, oh, come, our Lord of might,
Who to your tribes on Sinai’s height
In ancient times gave holy law,
In cloud and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

The Great O Antiphons

 

 

The “O Antiphons” refer to the seven antiphons that are recited (or chanted) preceding the Magnificat during Vespers of the Liturgy of the Hours. They cover the special period of Advent preparation known as the Octave before Christmas, Dec. 17-23, with Dec. 24 being Christmas Eve and Vespers for that evening being for the Christmas Vigil. An octave is literal 8 days.  From the earliest time of the Church 8 is considered significant: 7 days of the creation, then on the 1st Day of the Week, the 8th day, the new creation:  Christ is risen!

The exact origin of the “O Antiphons” is not known. Boethius (c. 480-524) made a slight reference to them, thereby suggesting their presence at that time. At the Benedictine abbey of Fleury (now Saint-Benoit-sur-Loire), these antiphons were recited by the abbot and other abbey leaders in descending rank, and then a gift was given to each member of the community. By the eighth century, they are in use in the liturgical celebrations in Rome. The usage of the “O Antiphons” was so prevalent in monasteries that the phrases, “Keep your O” and “The Great O Antiphons” were common parlance. One may thereby conclude that in some fashion the “O Antiphons” have been part of our liturgical tradition since the very early Church.

The importance of “O Antiphons” is twofold: Each one highlights a title for the Messiah: 

O Sapientia (O Wisdom)

 O Adonai (O Lord)

O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse)

O Clavis David (O Key of David)

O Oriens (O Rising Sun)

O Rex Gentium (O King of the Nations)

 O Emmanuel.

According to Professor Robert Greenberg of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, the Benedictine monks arranged these antiphons with a definite purpose. If one starts with the last title and takes the first letter of each one – Emmanuel, Rex, Oriens, Clavis, Radix, Adonai,Sapientia – the Latin words ero cras are formed, meaning, “Tomorrow, I will come.” Therefore, the Lord Jesus, whose coming we have prepared for in Advent and whom we have addressed in these seven Messianic titles, now speaks to us, “Tomorrow, I will come.” So the “O Antiphons” not only bring intensity to our Advent preparation, but bring it to a joyful conclusion.  

Notably, the Great O Antiphons are the basis of the great Advent Hymn: O, Come, O Come, Emmanuel.

(The information above is cited from an article in Cyberbrethren)

December 17th:

O Sapientia:

Isaiah had prophesied, “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.” (11:2-3), and “Wonderful is His counsel and great is His wisdom.” (28:29).  St. Paul points out that, “… the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. 1 Corinthians 1: 25.  Jesus is the Wisdom of God.  He was weak to show forth the power of our salvation in every Word and Work He did and finally and fully in the weakness of the manger and Cross bearing our sin.    In Proverbs 8 and 9, Wisdom is personified as a woman:  

Wisdom has built her house;
   she has hewn her seven pillars.
2She has slaughtered her beasts; she has mixed her wine;
   she has also set her table.
3She has sent out her young women to call
   from the highest places in the town,
4 “Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!”
    To him who lacks sense she says,
5“Come, eat of my bread
   and drink of the wine I have mixed.
6Leave your simple ways, and live,
    and walk in the way of insight.”

She invites the simple to her table.  The Lord invites the simple to His Table to walk in His Way, the way of insight and live.

 

 Oh, come, Oh, come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Oh, come, our Wisdom from on high, 
Who ordered 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!

As a Mollie Ziegler Hemingway noted  in The Federalisthat this funny skit is a good parody because it doesn’t hate Christians.  And as a pastor:  been there, seen that or done that!

He answered and said, Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of GOD. – (Daniel 3: 25)

Lord God, heavenly Father, You rescued Daniel from the lions’ den and the three young men from the fiery furnace through the miraculous intervention of an angel. Save us now through the presence of Jesus, the Lion of Judah, who has conquered all our enemies through His blood and taken away all our sins as the Lamb of God, who now reigns from His heavenly throne with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Daniel the prophet and the Three Young Men—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—were among the leaders of the people of Judah who were taken into captivity in Babylon. Even in that foreign land they remained faithful to the one true God in their piety, prayer, and life. On account of such steadfast faithfulness in the face of pagan idolatry, the Three Young Men were thrown into a fiery furnace, from which they were saved by the Lord and emerged unharmed (Daniel 3). Similarly, Daniel was thrown into a pit of lions, from which he also was saved (Daniel 6). Blessed in all their endeavors by the Lord—and in spite of the hostility of some—Daniel and the Three Young Men were promoted to positions of leadership among the Babylonians (Dan 2:48–493:306:28). To Daniel in particular the Lord revealed the interpretation of dreams and signs that were given to King Nebuchadnezzar and King Belshazzar (Daniel 2, 4, 5). To Daniel himself the Lord gave visions of the end times. Source: Treasury of Daily Prayer

Reflection:  The response of rulers to Daniel and his three companions was either to slap them on the back in thanks or slap them into prison in rage.  The reason behind both responses was they did not “go with the flow”.  In the opening chapters, we find out they did not eat the King’s food, that is, they kept kosher. Later, they did not bow to the king’s false god.  In other words, Daniel and the 3 young men obeyed in faith the Commandments as in the 1st Commandment: You shall have no other gods before you.  I do not think they so kept the Commandments in order to be saved but they were called and saved to do so.  Recently I read someone has come out with a “Christian diet” shamelessly using “Daniel’s diet”:  Daniel and his three friends did not so refrain because of their waistlines!  Also us as Christians are so saved by the Lord to delight  in His commandments. As we are called to follow in the Way who is Jesus Christ, He calls us to be different than the world.  We can not bow to the gods of this world:  mammon, Caesar, self.  We live in a “selfie” world. These verses from the Sermon on the Mount, St. Matthew 5: 13, is the Lord’s vocation to His people to so live:

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.

G. K. Chesterton was so right when he wrote this on  the Matthew Gospel verse above:

Christ did not tell his apostles that they were only the excellent people, or the only excellent people, but that they were the exceptional people; the permanently incongruous and incompatible people; and the text about the salt of the earth is really as sharp and shrewd and tart as the taste of salt. It is because they were the exceptional people, that they must not lose their exceptional quality. “If salt lose its savour, wherewith shall it be salted?” … If the world grows too worldly, it can be rebuked by the Church; but if the Church grows too worldly, it cannot be adequately rebuked for worldliness by the world.

Our Lord’s  dire warning is clear: go with the flow and we are no more.  Salt does it’s thing because it is different from that which it seasons and preserves. Advent is filled with people who did not go with the flow:  John the Baptist, Elizabeth and Zechariah, Simeon, Anna, Joseph and Mary.   They all knew, in varying degree, the fiery furnace and the Son of God, with no dross to be burned away came into the furnace with us, our own dross of trespasses to be burned.   Not going with the peer groups of the world is hard and this is why we are encouraged this day by Daniel and the Three Young Men.

Post-Script:  In an apocryphal song, the three young men sang in the fiery furnace the following, adapted for liturgical usage.  In the Lutheran Church it is sung during Easter Vigil when all creation waits for the last revelation of all God’s children in Jesus Christ (Romans 8:19).  Even if we do not praise the Lord, His creation does! (see Psalm 148)

All you works of the Lord, bless the Lord; Praise Him and magnify Him forever!

You angels of the Lord, bless the Lord; You heavens, bless the Lord; Praise Him and magnify Him forever!

You sun and moon, bless the Lord; You stars of heaven, bless the Lord; You showers and dews, bless the Lord; Praise Him and magnify Him forever!

You winds of God, bless the Lord; You fire and heat, bless the Lord; You winter and summer, bless the Lord; Praise Him and magnify Him forever!

You dews and frost, bless the Lord; You frost and cold, bless the Lord; You ice and snow, bless the Lord; Praise Him and magnify Him forever!

You nights and days, bless the Lord; You light and darkness, bless the Lord; You lightning and clouds, bless the Lord; Praise Him and magnify Him forever!

Let the earth bless the Lord; You mountains and hills, bless the Lord; All you green things that grow on the earth, bless the Lord; Praise Him and magnify Him forever!

You wells and springs, bless the Lord; You rivers and seas, bless the Lord; You whales and all who move in the waters, bless the Lord; Praise Him and magnify Him forever!

All you birds of the air, bless the Lord; All you beasts and cattle, bless the Lord; All you children of mortals, bless the Lord; Praise Him and magnify Him forever!

You people of God, bless the Lord; You priests of the Lord, bless the Lord; You servants of the Lord, bless the Lord; Praise Him and magnify Him forever!

You spirits and souls of the righteous, bless the Lord; You pure and humble of heart, bless the Lord; Let us bless the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, Praise Him and magnify Him forever!

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to Holy Spirit;
As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever.
Amen.
 

“He must increase, but I must decrease.” (Translation of the Text, St. John 3:30, behind John the Baptist, pointing to the crucified Christ; detail from the Isenheim Altarpiece by Matthias Grunewald)

He was not the light, but came to bear witness about             the light. (St. John 1: 8)

 Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week.  In the first day of creation, God created light.  Darkness and light are fundamental realities of life.  God created light in the midst of the darkness of no life.  He created out of His divine being.  

For with You is the fountain of life;
    in Your light do we see light. (Psalm 36: 9)

 and

 This is the message we have heard from Him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.  (1 John 1: 5)

 The fundamental scientific reality of light, that even a pin prick of light, can lighten a totally dark room, but physically one can not box up darkness and let it loose in a room with light to darken the room. We can only block the light or turn it off.  There are two types of darkness and light:  physical and spiritual.  Physically men and women cannot bring darkness into the light, but spiritually, this is possible.  But when right light of God’s Law shines on that spiritual darkness, it is frightening to the Old Adam: 

 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. (St. John 3)

 Everyone who has  not believed in the Lord our Savior Who came into the darkness is still in the dark.  They have not believed in God’s just judgment of the darkness of wickedness.  They have not believed in His utter forgiveness of sinners in the light of His Word.

 The Lord sent John as witness about the light coming into the world, the light of salvation. 

The Lord is my light and my salvation. (Psalm 27)  He preached God’s Law, repentance so that through the Light of world, Jesus Christ, “…that all might believe through Him” (John 1).  The Lord’s Word of Law, making straight the Lord’s way, prepares  for our Savior’s inestimable mercy for sinners, the light of the world.  “Thy Word O Lord is lamp unto our feet, and a light unto our path” (Psalm 119: 105).  The Lord showed us by His Law the way we are lost and by His promises fulfilled shows us the Way, Jesus Christ, the very light OF the world, love’s pure light,  in our darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.  

Fill with the radiance of Thy grace
The souls now lost in error’s maze
And all whom in their secret minds
Some dark delusion haunts and blinds.

 It is frightening to be lost in the darkness, physical and spiritual. Years ago, friends of our family,  the Johnsons, a family of 6 told this story.  Pastor Johnson’s mother had died and his father later moved to a small rural town in Mississippi, out in the country.  The Johnson family went to find Grandpa’s new home. They were driving and driving and unable to find the town.  The sun had set and darkness descended. Dark country roads with no moon nor any street lights are ominous when one is lost. When it was pitch black, unable to find any town, they  were scared.  In the dark, lost, even for a short time can seem like an eternity. Finally, off in the horizon they saw a light and they were encouraged.  As they drove closer and closer, they realized it was a fire and they were drawing closer to it, not turning around, maybe curious, or at least it was light and there might be someone there. Well, there were people there.   Then came to that fire and they saw what it was:  a KKK meeting and a cross burning.  They sped away.

 They found in the middle of the country darkness worse than any physical darkness: the darkness of racial hatred, which is wickedness masquerading as light in the darkness.  In the fear of the dark on life’s journey, there are many tempting lights on the horizon, which beckon with their siren call.    Jesus warned: 

“The eye is the lamp of the body.  So if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.  If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness.”(St. Matthew 6)

 We look for light in enormous wealth, in celebrity and popularity, in celebrities, in more and more stuff, in what’s under the tree not Him who hung upon the Tree, in sexual encounters, in political  movements, in our own intelligence and reason to save, in our nation…how we look at life matters.  All of those things are good gifts from God but when bad eyes seek them for themselves as light, how great is the darkness. It is idolatry.

And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15 So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds. (2 Corinthians 11)

John came to clear the vision as witness about the Light.  He could say I am not the light. He said I am not the Christ.  Christ said,  beware of those who say, I am the Christ. They are not the light.  Even the Church is not the light in the sense that the Church is not Christ. We are Christ’s body.  We are called to do as John:  bear witness regarding the Light.  Light shines into the darkness.  Light comes from the outside.  Darkness, of the heart separated from the Lord, comes from within.  Upon whom who has lighted shined?  The light has shone upon those walking in the dark, then all those lesser lights are like Christmas lights left on in the morning and the sun shines and they look small and ineffectual. They are when the real light of the Lord’s grace shines.

  The light has shone, the good news, as Isaiah said upon:    

the poor   

the faint  of spirit    

the captives

those who are bound 

all who mourn  

the brokenhearted 

Not upon those who think they are the light. The brightest and the best bathe in their own light, as the religious muckity mucks from headquarters who came to investigate John. The prophet Isaiah’s list, the poor, the faint in spirit, captives, those who mourn sure sounds like another passage, Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn…the Beatitudes. He comes to find the lost.  He has.  He will. He comes to bless in worst distresses, in the light of His forgiveness, for,

a bruised reed he will not break,
    and a smoldering wick he will not quench,
until he brings justice to victory;
21     and in his name the Gentiles will hope.”(Isaiah 42) 

 Don’t quench the Spirit, encouraged the Apostle.  Don’t put out the fire, the light of the Holy Spirit teaching Christ into your ears and into your heart, the light of the Word made flesh. But how does the fire and light of the Holy Spirit stay close to us?  Just before Paul’s encouragement not to quench the Spirit, he shows how:  Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances. When the power goes out, what’s one of the first things you go looking for?  A flashlight.   This trinity of unity is, “…the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  Pray anytime…in need, in sorrow, in hope, for others, in rejoicing and thanksgiving. Your body is His Temple.  In prayer, in a flash, reach for His light as He has reached you. When the lights of this world go out, it makes no sense not to pick up a flashlight.  In this dark world, it makes no sense that by God’s grace we know where His light is in His Word, so to serve and help others.   John was not worthy to do a slave’s work to stoop down and untie the sandals of Christ Jesus, and Christ Himself, in the night in which He was betrayed stooped down and untied the disciples’ sandals to wash their feet.  He has untied us from the bounds of sin and death tied to His own life. 

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.24 He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. (1 Thessalonians 5)

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

 

Collect of the Day: 

O Almighty God, by whose grace and power Your holy servant Lucia triumphed over suffering and remain ever faithful unto death, grant us, who now remember her with thanksgiving, to be so true in our witness to You in this world that we may receive with her new eyes without tears and the crown of light and life; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

One of the victims of the great persecution under the Roman emperor Diocletian, Lucia met her death at Syracuse on the island of Sicily in the year A.D. 304, because of her Christian faith. Known for her charity, “Santa Lucia” (as she is called in Italy) gave away her dowry and remained a virgin until her execution by the sword. The name Lucia means “light,” and, because of that, festivals of light commemorating her became popular throughout Europe, especially in the Scandinavian countries. There her feast day corresponds with the time of year when there is the least amount of daylight. (Collect and Intro from The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

 In medieval Europe before the Gregorian reform of the calendar, St. Lucy’s Day was the shortest day of the year and this day was celebrated especially in Scandinavia where it marked the tunring from the long cold nights to the increase in daylight.  Swedish communites, including many in America, still have special festivities for this day.  In private homes one of the young girls of the household, dressed in white and wearing a crown of lighted candles, awakens the family in the morning and offers them cakes and coffee from a tray. (from Festivals and Commemorations by Rev. Philip Pfatteicher)

Reflection:  It is significant that the Christ was born when light is the least, when darkness is palpable.  My wife is a chemist and years ago pointed out that physically you can not bring darkness into a room but you can bring in light. Only the fallen sons of Adam and daughters of Eve can bring spiritual darkness into a room, a family, a school, yes, even a church.  Lucia brought light, her own lit by Jesus Christ (Matthew 5:16).  The powers of darkness thought they had blown out that light, but they were wrong as we remember her today. In Him, we too can bring light into the dark places.  “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (St. John 1: 4-5)

We pray:

Lord Jesus Christ,  we implore You to hear our prayers and to lighten the darkness of our hearts by Your gracious visitation; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

 

 

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