Basically a week before the feast of the Nativity, our reflections changes through the set readings at Mass and also usheres in by the "O" Antiphons. These are a wonderful focus for preparation for welcoming the first coming of Christ. They proclaim names given to God in the Old Testament Scriptures that express a longing for salvation and liberation, which was acknowledged triumphally by the angelic choirs on that first Christmas night. To-day these Antiphons are sung before the Magnificat in the Evening Office, and at the Gospel acclamation.
I like to use the Sarum tradition of these which begin on 16th December, and thus allow that extra antiphon to ponder on the Virgin.
(In the Roman and modern rite, this has been slightly revised by omitting the last O Antiphon O Virgo Virginum and thus beginning on 17th December).
16th DECEMBER - O SAPIENTIA
O Wisdom which came out of the mouth of the most High,
and reaches from one end to another, mightily, and sweetly ordering all things:
Come and teach us the way of prudence.
The Scriptural reference
And the spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD; And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the LORD: and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears: (Isa. 11.2 -3).
In the Christian tradition Wisdom has always existed in the second Person of the Godhead and it is Wisdom through which God created the world, when she spoke. That second person of the Trinity is Jesus, God incarnate. So He is not only the Word but He spoke the Word. And those Words are true, the life and the Way for us to live. Today let us pray that we shall use the gift of wisdom, given to us at Confirmation, to discern the things of God so that we grow to love the virtues of God’s kingdom.
O Sapientia teach us the truth and to be truly wise; Come, O Holy Spirit and prepare our hearts to welcome you at Christmas. Amen.
17th DECEMBER - O ADONAI
O Adonai and Leader of the house of Israel,
who appeared in the Bush to Moses in a flame of fire,
and gave him the Law on Sinai:
Come and deliver us with an outstretched arm.
For the LORD is our judge , the LORD is our lawgiver , the LORD is our king; he will save us (Isa. 33.22)
This antiphon reflects firstly on Moses’ encounter with Adonai manifesting himself firstly in the burning bush and secondly on Mt. Sinai. The fire symbolised God’s presence and like the fire is not consumed. That fire was a sign that God would be fully revealed in His Son.
The coming of Christ expanded that Law on Sinai given to Moses for the Israelites. Our Adonai has given us a wider Law based on love - love one another as I have loved you. Today let us pray that our lives will be ones of love in which there is no bitterness, resentment, anger or fear, but only tenderness, gentleness and compassion.
O Adonai, you so loved us that you became incarnate so that we may have your example of divine love in giving us the Law of Love. Come, O Holy Spirit prepare our hearts to acknowledge you as our leader this Christmas. Amen.
18th DECEMBER - O RADIX JESSE
O Root of Jesse, which stand for an ensign of the people,
at whom kings shall shut their mouths, to whom the Gentiles
Come and deliver us, and tarry not.
And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek : and his rest shall be glorious. And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall set his hand again the second time to recover the remnant of his people, which shall be left Isa. 11.10-11)
This antiphon reflects on the Jesse tree family. Jesus was a descendant from King David whose father was Jesse and his father was Obed and so on. But the root goes deeper, even to creation itself. Christ superseded David and indeed all rulers of this earth because He is King of all creation. Today we pray that we may recognize our Lord’s sovereignty in our lives.
O Root of Jesse, you left your heavenly throne in order to let us share in your heavenly kingdom; Come, O Holy Spirit prepare our hearts so that we recognise Christ rule in our hearts. Amen.
19th DECEMBER - O CLAVIS DAVID
O Key of David, and Sceptre of the house of Israel; that opens and no man shuts;
and shuts, and no man opens;
Come and bring the prisoner out of the prison house,
and him that sits in darkness, and the shadow of death.
And the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; so he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open. And I will fasten him as a nail in a sure place; and he shall be for a glorious throne to his father's house. Isa. 15.22-23.
And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write ; These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth , and no man shutteth ; and shutteth , and no man openeth (Rev. 3.7)
The key of the House of David is turned with the Annunciation and it opens the door at Christmas. Through that door comes salvation and every one is invited to come through, the poor, the destitute, and he despised. In Christ opening the door, none is refused entry. Today we thank God for our deliverance, knowing that the door opens to eternal life, and that we no longer have to live in the shadow of death.
O Clavis David, you have delivered us from the tyranny of darkness, death and sin; Come, O Holy Spirit cleanse our hearts so that we may be truly penitent and acknowledge our sins before we come to you this Christmas. Amen.
20th DECEMBER - O ORIENS
O Day-Spring, Brightness of Light everlasting, and Sun of righteousness:
Come, and enlighten him that sits in darkness,
and the shadow of death.
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined. (Isaiah 9:2).
Oriens means the rising sun. Its light brings victory over the darkness or shadows of the night. We are reminded of this daily in the morning Office when we sing the Benedicitus “To give light to those in darkness and in the shadow of death.” As Christ is “the Light of the world” He is Oriens. Spring also dispels the darkness of the long gloomy winter. With Christ however there is eternal spring, and Heaven will be like Spring, ever green and luscious. Today we pray that the Light will penetrate our hearts so that we see all our deeds through His rays, and knowing that when we have failed, the warmth of the sunshine will always strengthen us to start afresh.
O Oriens, you have warmed and enlightened us to the teachings of your kingdom; Come O Holy Spirit and fill us with radiant joy as we celebrate the coming of the true Light of the world. Amen.
21st DECEMBER - O REX GENTIUM
O King of the nations, and their Desire; the Cornerstone, who makes both one:
Come, and save mankind, whom you formed from clay.
Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste (Isa.28.16).
And I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come : and I will fill this house with glory, saith the LORD of hosts (Hag.2.7).
Christ’s birth made the corner-stone of two walls in a building: here representing Jews and Gentiles, and thus ushered in salvation for all people. Remember those Greeks who came to Jerusalem seeking Jesus in the Johannine Gospel. Christ is not only the corner stone binding all creatures but He is also king of the nations. This antiphon should also be a reminder of our humble beginning brought into existence by the breath of God. Today we pray that the news of a saviour and ruler will be heard by all, wherever they live and however they live.
O Rex Gentium, although you took our human flesh to make us all brothers and sisters in you, you are also our Ruler; Come O Holy Spirit, help us to acknowledge Christ as our Sovereign, and lead all footsteps to the Christ this Christmas. Amen.
22nd DECEMBER- O EMMANUEL
O Emmanuel, our King and Lawgiver, The desire of all nations, and their Salvation:
Come and save us O Lord our God.
Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign: the young woman shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel (Isa. 7:14).
Emmanuel means God with us. It is almost Christmas and God will truly be with us. Yet it means more than this. By becoming one of us, He knows what it is to be a human being, with all its joys and griefs. None has experienced pain more than He on the cross and none has known the joy He manifested in the Transfiguration. He is with us, never to leave us. Today we pray that when we receive our Lord in his Sacrament we may truly welcome Him as our saviour, and bid him welcome for the rest of our lives.
O Emmanuel, you come to us, not only as the Babe in a manger, but each day in the Holy Eucharist; Come O Holy Spirit, empty my heart of all that is unholy, so that we can truly give all good things to the Christ-Child at Christmas. Amen.
23rd DECEMBER- O VIRGO VIRGINUM
O Virgin of virgins, how shall this be? for neither before thee was any like thee,nor shall there be after. Daughters of Jerusalem, why marvel at me?
The thing which you behold is a divine mystery.
And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth (John 1.14)..
Our Lady, the fairest of all human beings, was the chosen instrument of God; she is Theotokos, the God-bearer.
You have committed to me the exceeding great joy f Your salvation, O Christ.
One of the greatest lessons we can learn of Christian living is through her Magnificat; My soul does magnify the Lord, and my Spirit has rejoiced in God my Saviour. Could there be more appropriate words for meditation as we approach this most holy time?
To-day let us be truly thankful for the inspiration our Lady as we prepare for the birth of the Saviour.
O Virgin virginum, pray for us to welcome the promised Saviour into our hearts on the holiest of all nights.
Christmass Eve Let us meditate from the Orthodox tradition.
Let creation exceedingly rejoice,
For the Creator fashions Himself as a creature.
And he who was before all things now manifests Himself
as God newly revealed.
Let the wise men go to meet Him with their gifts;
Let the shepherds clap their hands in faith at the wonder;
and let mortal men join the angels with rejoicing.
From - Compline for the 24th December.
Be joyful, O earth!
Behold, Christ draws near to be born in Bethlehem.
Be glad, O sea!
And dance for joy, O company of prophets,
For to-day you behold the fulfilment of your words.
Rejoice, all you righteous!
Let the kings of the whole earth sing with rejoicing,
And let the nations be in exceeding joy!
Mountains, hills, and valleys,
Rivers, seas, and the whole of creation:
Magnify the Lord who now is born.
Rejoice, O Virgin,
The Theotokos who of the Holy Spirit
Has borne Life into the world
For the salvation of all.
From - Matins for the 24th December.
A Reading from a sermon of Augustine based particularly on psalm 85, verses 10 and 11, in preparation for welcoming the Christ Child
Awake! For your sake God was made man! 'Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light.' For your sake, I say, God was made man.
Eternal death awaited you had he not been born in time. Never would you have been freed from sinful flesh, had he not taken on himself the likeness of sinful flesh. Everlasting would have been your misery, had he not acted in mercy. You would never have returned to life, had he not shared your death. You would have been lost, had he not hastened to your aid. You would have perished, had he not come.
Let us then joyfully celebrate the coming of our salvation and redemption. Let us celebrate the hallowed day on which he who is the great and eternal day came from the great and endless day of eternity into our own short span of time. 'He has become our righteousness, our sanctification, our redemption, and so, as it is written: Let those who glory, glory in the Lord.'
'Truth,' then, 'has sprung up from the earth.' Christ who said, 'I am the truth,' is born of a virgin. 'And righteousness has looked down from heaven': because believing in this new-born child, we are justified not by ourselves but by God. 'Truth has sprung up from the earth' because the Word was made flesh. 'And righteousness has looked down from heaven' because 'every good gift and every perfect gift is from above.' 'Truth has sprung up from the earth' - flesh born of Mary. 'And righteousness has looked down from heaven' for 'you can receive nothing unless it has been given you from heaven.'
Being justified by faith, let us be at peace with God' for indeed 'righteousness and peace have kissed each other' through our Lord Jesus Christ, for 'truth has sprung up from the earth.' Through him we have access to that grace in which we stand, and our boast is in our hope of sharing the glory of God. St Paul does not say at this point 'our glory' but 'the glory of God'; because righteousness has not proceeded from us but has 'looked down from heaven'. Therefore let those who glory, glory not in themselves, but in the Lord.
For this reason, when our Lord was born of the Virgin, the message of the angels was: 'Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on earth.' For how could there be peace on earth unless 'truth has sprung up from the earth', that is, unless Christ were born of our flesh? And 'he is our peace who made the two into one' that we might be people of good will, bound together by the bond of unity.
Beloved, let us then rejoice in this grace, so that our glorying may bear witness to a good conscience, and may we glory, not in ourselves, but in the Lord. That is why Scripture says: 'He is my glory, the one who lifts up my head.' For what greater grace could God have made to dawn upon us than to make his only Son become the Son of Man, so that we might in our turn become children and heirs of God'? Ask yourselves if this were merited; ask for its reason, for its justification, and see whether you find anything but sheer grace.