O Antiphons

“O stock of Jesse, you stand as a sign for the peoples. Kings fall silent before you, the nations acclaim you: delay no longer, but come to free us.”

—the Magnificat antiphon for December 19

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It is the week before Christmas, which means it is the week of the O Antiphons.

I first experienced the O Antiphons at St. John’s Abbey in central Minnesota when I was in grad school at the seminary there. The week before Christmas at evening prayer, after the Magnificat, the monks would chant a beautiful hymn, each night invoking a different name of Jesus:

O Sapientia (Wisdom)
O Adonai (Lord)
O Radix Jesse (Root of Jesse)
O Clavis David (Key of David)
O Oriens (Dayspring)
O Rex Gentium (King of the nations)
O Emmanuel (God-with-us)

You’re probably most familiar with the O Antiphons through the Advent hymn, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” Each of its seven verses is based on an O Antiphon.

Thomas Turner of Everyday Liturgy writes, “The O Antiphons are one way that Christians for over 1500 years have been preparing their hearts, souls, minds and bodies to celebrate the coming of Christ at the first Advent, Christmas.”

So this final Friday before Christmas, near the beginning of O Antiphon week, I invite you to pause and ponder the names of Jesus, their richness and beauty, and the One to whom they point our hearts.

Here are three resources I am enjoying:

1.

Thomas Turner’s new e-book O Antiphons: Prayers for the Advent Season is a fresh reading of the O Antiphons, along with an Old and New Testament scripture reading and a meditation with discussion questions.

Of his book Thomas writes, “You can use this book to prayerfully come into the presence of the baby Jesus, born of a virgin, fully God and fully human in form, who is Wisdom in the flesh, our Lord, the Savior promised from David’s line, our Eternal Light, the King who unites all peoples and our Emmanuel, the God-who-is-with-us.”

It’s free. And it has beautiful illustrations. So go get yourself a copy. If you make a donation, Thomas will give half to the artist who illustrated the book and half to International Justice Mission.

2.

Malcolm Guite’s beautiful collection of sonnets for the church year, Sounding the Seasons, includes a cycle of O Antiphons, which are among my favorite poems in the collection. I especially love “O Radix” (Root of Jesse), which includes these lines:

For now is winter, now is withering
Unless we let you root us deep within,
Under the ground of being, graft us in.

I wish I could quote the whole thing, but that’s against copyright. You really, really must get your hands on a copy. It’s worth it just for the O Antiphons. The bonus is that the book will last the whole year through, beautiful words to light your way through Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Ordinary Time.

3.

Finally, I want to share with you John Mason Neale’s translation of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” (It was originally a Latin hymn, a metrical paraphrase of the O Antiphons.) Neale’s translation is just different enough from the hymn you usually sing that I hope its words will draw you up short and remind you how utterly amazing the Incarnation is.

The final two verses were translated in 1916 by Henry Sloane Coffin. The word “Orient” in the third verse is a transliteration of the Latin oriens, east, the place of daybreak.

May I suggest you sing it? The melody will slow you down so you can ponder the words rather than racing through them :)

 

Draw nigh, draw nigh, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear;
Rejoice! rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall be born for thee, O Israel!

Draw nigh, O Jesse’s Rod, draw nigh,
To free us from the enemy;
From Hell’s infernal pit to save,
And give us victory o’er the grave.
Rejoice! rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall be born, for thee, O Israel!

Draw nigh, Thou Orient, Who shalt cheer
And comfort by Thine Advent here,
And banish far the brooding gloom
Of sinful night and endless doom.
Rejoice! rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall be born for thee, O Israel!

Draw nigh, draw nigh, O David’s Key,
The Heavenly Gate will ope to Thee ;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall be born for thee, O Israel!

Draw nigh, draw nigh, O Lord of Might,
Who to Thy tribes from Sinai’s height
In ancient time didst give the Law,
In cloud and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall be born for thee, O Israel!

O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
And order all things, far and nigh;
To us the path of knowledge show,
And cause us in her ways to go.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Desire of nations, bind
All peoples in one heart and mind;
Bid envy, strife and quarrels cease;
Fill the whole world with heaven’s peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

 

 

Photo by Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P., Creative Commons via Flickr. Detail from the sanctuary arch of the basilica of St Paul outside the Walls in Rome, showing kings casting their crowns before God’s throne in heaven.

 

 

 

Since our move, our books have been in disarray. Half of them are in boxes in the garage, awaiting shelves. The other half are shoved almost willy-nilly onto the shelves we do have, awaiting their chums’ arrival so they can be put in order once more.

So it was a blessed relief to open the Christmas box and find all our Christmas books in one place. Now they’re happily living in a basket beside the fireplace where we can look at them or read them at our leisure.

I like them all, but I especially love these three. So much so that if I had to move and could only take a few books, these would be in my box.

The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski, illustrated by P.J. Lynch

One of my favorite Christmas stories, this book brings a glad smile to my face each and every time I read it. P.J. Lynch’s gorgeous illustrations illuminate this story of hope and transformation.

Christmas Day in the Morning by Pearl S. Buck, illustrated by Mark Buehner

Every time I read this book, I get teary or choked up or both. My kids don’t get why, but that’s okay; they like the book even if it does make Mama cry. It’s a beautiful story, and I was thrilled when I learned several years ago that it had been made into a picture book. Lovely, all the way around.

One Wintry Night by Ruth Bell Graham, illustrated by Richard Jesse Watson

I’m not sure this is technically a Christmas book, but we’ve read it every year during Advent since Jack was three. The beautifully written story weaves between a boy lost in an Appalachian blizzard and the whole sweep of the Biblical narrative, from creation to crucifixion. And Richard Jesse Watson’s illustrations are simply stunning (the gorgeous angel above is his).

I also want to recommend as a quick, light, and yet delightful winter read Jan Karon’s Shepherds Abiding, which I read for the first time earlier this month. It was exactly what I needed: a story full of well-meaning, good-hearted, ordinary people seeking to live with faith and hope and love in a hurting world. And the seeking infuses their lives with grace and glory. The characters often didn’t see the grace and glory in their lives, but I did, and it gave me hope, helped me look at my own life through that lens: where’s the grace here? where’s the glory? Seek and ye shall find.

 

 

 

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Last month I read the first book in Andrew Peterson’s Wingfeather Saga, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, to my kids. It was so delightful that my husband joined us for story time, too.

This is a big deal. Many of the books I read he decides are not worth his time. He’d rather be programming. But this one won out over his computer.

For those of you who know my husband, I could end my review right here, and it would be praise enough to motivate you to the nearest bookstore.

But for those of you who don’t know my husband, I will say a few more words. On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness is similar to The Lord of the Rings, except that there are no hobbits or dwarves or elves or wizards or trolls or eagles or mines or perilous journeys in foreign lands or magic rings. But other than that, they’re pretty much the same. Well, except that On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness has humanoid lizards, toothy cows, a lost island, and mysterious jewels, and The Lord of the Rings doesn’t. But other than that, they’re really quite similar. Almost identical, in fact.

For those of you who don’t know The Lord of the Rings (well, first off, what rock have you been hiding under for the past fifty years?) and who therefore have no idea what On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness is about, let me enlighten you. The Dark Sea of Darkness separates the land of Skree from the domain of the nameless horror of a dark lord (whose name is Gnag). Legend has it that in this dark sea was an island called Anniera ruled by a king called Wingfeather until the nameless dark lord, Gnag, destroyed it.

But all that was a long time ago—ten or eleven years; you know, a near eternity—and the story isn’t really about Anniera at all. It’s about Janner Igiby and his two siblings and their mother and grandfather. There’s also a slightly crazed homeless man who does a pretty good impression of Wolverine from the X-Men at one point. And those humanoid lizards I mentioned. And a super creepy black carriage.

As Janner and his siblings slowly unravel the mystery of the lost jewels of Anniera, danger besets them on every side. But there’s no going back because—well, I won’t spoil it by telling you how come. If you want to know, you’ll just have to read it for yourself. Trust me, you want to. The toothy cows are popular with four-year-olds, and the action and adventure are popular with 8- and 11-year-olds. (And 44-year-olds, too, apparently. See second paragraph, above.)

Also, there’s a barber named J. Crow. My children did not get that reference, but I did. I happen to know that Andrew Peterson is a Wendell Berry fan, and besides, I’ve read that book. Getting the in-joke made me feel pretty smart. And the fact that I figured out the mystery of the legendary Jewels of Anniera long before the Igiby children (or my own) only heightened my sense of being Highly Intelligent. And feeling Highly Intelligent is a Pleasant Sensation that gives you a certain fondness for whoever or whatever is making you feel thus.

Furthermore, during the two weeks that we were reading this book at bedtime, my children got ready for bed early and helped out with evening chores without complaining or disputing. They wanted me to be able to read three or four or ten chapters instead of our usual one or two. I was happy to oblige them (especially since the book was overdue at the library).

Upon finishing the book, my husband asked me to order the sequel from the library. Alas, they don’t have it—or any of the other books in the series. But as it’s rare that my husband asks for a book, I think this request warrants a trip to the Rabbit Room store. In fact, I think I just figured out what I’m getting him for Christmas. But shh, don’t tell.

 

 

Drawing of toothy cow by Andrew Peterson. Shamelessly stolen from the Wingfeather Saga website. Used by permission.

 

 

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