As a child growing up in the Roman Catholic tradition, I was always excited to see my parents bring out the Advent wreath and place it in the center of our dinner table. With its arrival, I knew that Christmas was coming soon. Set with four candles, three purple and one pink, to be lit in a particular order, one for each Sunday leading up to Christmas, I understood that the Advent Season is a special time of waiting and preparing for the coming birth of Jesus in Bethlehem on Christmas Day.
My parents made sure I also understood that Christian families around the world were gathering in their homes, just like my family, to light candles on their Advent wreaths and read the same Scripture passages about hope, peace, joy, and love. The spirit of unity and solidarity made a deep impression on my heart.
The same spirit of unity and solidarity was cultivated at the meeting of Patriarchs and Heads of Churches from Jerusalem with Heads of Communion in the United States in Atlanta in 2016. With a shared faith in the God of hope, they planned to come together again this December, during the Advent Season of the year 2020. Due to COVID-19, we hope to meet in 2021.
Surrounded by the pain of a Holy Land in conflict, our church leaders dare to be a light in the darkness. Like the candles of Advent, burning together at Christmas, they can proclaim, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5)
Since at least the eighth century, another Advent tradition in the Roman Church is the singing of the beautiful “O” Antiphons, one at a time at Vespers during the last seven days of the season, from December 17 to 23. They are also used as the Alleluia verses on the same days in the Catholic Mass. They are referred to as the “O” Antiphons because the title of each short chant begins with “O.” Each antiphon is a name of Christ, one of his attributes mentioned in Scripture. They are a magnificent theology that uses ancient biblical imagery drawn from the messianic hopes of the Old Testament to proclaim the coming Christ as the fulfillment not only of Old Testament hopes, but present ones as well. Their repeated use of the imperative “Come!” embodies the longing of all for the Divine Messiah.
I share the O Antiphons here as our Advent prayer with the same spirit of the Apostle Paul, who wrote, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)
The “O” Antiphons of Advent
O Wisdom of our God Most High, guiding creation with power and love: Come to teach us the path of knowledge!
O Leader of the House of Israel, giver of the Law to Moses on Sinai: Come to rescue us with your mighty power!
O Root of Jesse’s stem, sign of God’s love for all his people: Come to save us without delay!
O Key of David, opening the gates of God’s eternal Kingdom: Come and free the prisoners of darkness!
O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: Come and shine on those who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death.
O King of all nations and keystone of the Church: Come and save humankind, whom you formed from the dust!
O Emmanuel, our King and Giver of Law: come to save us, Lord our God!
This devotion is provided by Susan Gunn, Director, Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns.
This year, we were pleased to ask members of our Board of Directors to share their liturgical traditions around the Advent season and reflect on the importance of community and working across faith traditions. The devotions reflect a variety of communions and personal perspectives that support CMEP’s work toward peace and justice in the Middle East. CMEP is very thankful for the writers who contribute Spiritual Resources. However, CMEP does not necessarily agree with all the positions of our writers, and they do not speak on CMEP’s behalf.
– Your team at Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP)
Support Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) this Advent season. We rely on your generous donations to continue to pursue peace and justice in the Middle East. Thank you.