Introducing “O Antiphons”

In the Western Christian tradition, the “O Antiphons” are sung in the last seven days of Advent. Each antiphon (a musical response, like a chant) represents a name for Christ found in the scriptures. The “O Antiphons” are Latin in origin: O Sapientia (O Wisdom); O Adonai (O Lord);  O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse); O Clavis David (O Key of David); O Oriens (O Dayspring); O Rex Gentium (O King of the Nations); O Emmanuel (O God with Us). The first letters of the Latin titles taken in reverse form an acrostic “Ero Cras,” which translates to “Tomorrow, I will be.”  
This year, Second Church extends the normal ordering of these antiphons so that we are meditating on the names of Christ and their meanings to us throughout Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany. As we sing the hymn O Come, O Come, Emmanuel throughout these seasons, may you discover new dimensions of Christ and his many names.
O Antiphon:  Emmanuel - “God with Us”
The First Sunday of Advent
O Antiphon:  Emmanuel  - “God with Us”


November 29
The First Sunday of Advent
O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear. 

(Luke 3:7-18) John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.   Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.”   Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?”  He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.”   Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?”

He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.” As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah,   John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.   His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.

In the fall of 1990, the most popular song in the country was Bette Midler’s version of “From a Distance.”  At that time, I was not going to church.  So my secular mind found the song thought provoking, comforting and hopeful.  Shortly after the song’s run up the charts, I returned to the church.   That decision totally changed my feelings about the song – as well as my life.  God does not watch us from a distance.  How can he if he is Emmanuel – God with us?
What does “God with us” mean?  He was and is present in our world and in our lives.  He’s spiritually present in the Holy Spirit.  He’s physically present in the incarnation of Jesus.  In Advent we celebrate the physical.  
Jesus was fully human.  He had the physical attributes of a man—he slept, got thirsty, ate food, died physically, was born of a human mother, etc.  He had the emotional attributes of a man.  He got mad, he cried, he loved (and still does), he celebrated things, he had close friends, and he felt the sting of betrayal.  These are all clearly documented in the Bible.  And we hold his humanity as cornerstone of our faith as expressed in all the confessions of our church.
While we celebrate God’s physical being with us in Advent, we need to remember the rest of the story.  He is still with us through the Holy Spirit that lives within us.  
 So is God really watching us from a distance?  Hardly!  He lives in and around us.  And he loves us more than we can ever grasp with our human minds.  So the next time you hear Bette Midler sing that song, sing these lyrics in the chorus instead – “God is watching us, God is watching us, God is watching us – as He’s with us.”
—Pete Ritz, Elder, Class of 2016