Among the ancient traditions of Advent are the “O” Antiphons. From at least the 8th century Christians have recited one these seven little prayers during each evening worship service (vespers) in the week leading up to Christmas. Each “O” addresses Jesus Christ—christos is Greek for “anointed”—using one of the names or qualities attributed to Him in Scripture and corresponding to verses in Isaiah 11:1, which prophesies the return of God’s Messiah—the Hebrew word for “anointed”. Each prayer asks Christ to return to us and fulfill God’s promise of His reign on Earth. In modern times we most often encounter these prayers in the song “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” At Trinity we are singing two each Sunday as we light the Advent Candle. In the E-Times we’ll look at the traditional O Antiphons, focusing today on the first three, and two more each week for the remainder of the season.
The first “O” is “O Wisdom, who is from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from end to end, ordering all things with strength and delight, come and teach us the way of prudence.” This is based on the very ancient Christian teaching that Jesus is the Incarnation of God’s Wisdom by which God created and ordered all things. This teaching is rooted in Proverbs 8:22-31, whose theme is taken up again in John 1:1-5.
The Second “O” is “O Lord and leader of the House of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush and gave to him the Law on Mt. Sinai, come and redeem us in your outstretched arm.” This is based on the teaching that Jesus is the revelation of God’s Righteousness and will return to rule over God’s Kingdom with both justice and mercy. Paul talks about this in Romans 3:21-26.
The third “O” is “O Root (or Branch) of Jesse, who stands as a sign among the peoples, before whom kings will shut their mouths, to whom all nations will offer prayer, come and deliver us now, do not delay!” Now, Jesse was King David’s father, and David, Israel’s most blessed king, was Jesus’ ancestor. This prayer emphasizes that Jesus is a king through his humanity as well as his divinity. In addition to Isaiah, Jeremiah 33:14-16 uses this turn of phrase in his prophecy.