During this season of Advent, you may have noticed that things sound a little bit different during our worship service. Along with the change of season, the liturgy in church has changed as well. Our kyrie rings with sound of bells, we sing as we light candles to watch for messiah, and we plead with God to be with us as we sing the great “O Antiphons” to the tune of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” These antiphons, or chants calling to God, were originally recorded in the seventh and eighth centuries by monks poring over the book of Isaiah who were hoping, waiting, for the coming of our salvation (this is one reason why Advent is my favorite season of the Church year - our looking forward to the coming/return of our savior is perhaps when we are closest to our Jewish brothers and sisters). Each antiphon is increasingly urgent as we come nearer and nearer to Christmas, with the anticipation of what is to come growing more intense as the days go by (sounds like how we feel about our shopping leading up to Christmas).
The prophet Isaiah refers to the Messiah using a number of names: Wisdom, Lord, Root of Jesse, Key of David, Rising Sun/Dayspring, King of the Nations, and God With Us. The latin names for each of these are Sapientia, Adonai, Radix Jesse, Clavis David, Oriens, Rex Gentium, and Emmanuel. To further add to the beauty and complexity of these antiphons, the first letters of each of the Latin names put together backwards create the Latin phrase “ERO CRAS,” which translated means “tomorrow I will be there.”
“Tomorrow I will be there.” Imagine Christ’s response to our plea for God to be with us. Imagine Jesus saying “tomorrow I will be there.” How comforting it is to know that two thousand years after his birth, death, and resurrection, Jesus still speaks to us in the words of our hymns, with this particular one reminding us that he will be here soon.
In the next few weeks leading up to the big day, as you do your last minute shopping, keep these antiphons with you. Each Sunday we will sing two of them, and by the time we get to Christmas, we will have sung all eight (seven, but Emmanuel repeats as the first and last antiphon). Feel free to rip that page out of your bulletin each week and use the antiphons as prayers, to ground you each day, and soothe any nerves you may have about Christmas being just right. Use them to remember what this season is about, and how it is separate from Christmas itself.
“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 you, O Israel!”