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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.
The Season of Epiphany  
Dr. John R. Franke
The Season of Epiphany 
 

 

By: Dr. John R. Franke
 
Even though it occurred more than thirty-five years ago, I can still remember it like it happened yesterday. One fall day during my senior year in high school I was sitting downstairs in the family room on my favorite oversized chair with my legs draped comfortably over the side reading a book when I was unexpectedly struck by an insight that altered the course of my life. It was simply this, if I really wanted to know Jesus, I had to become a follower of Jesus. I couldn’t just stand at a safe distance and intellectually scrutinize the beliefs and claims of Christian faith in an uncommitted way. If I wanted to truly understand, I would have to become a disciple.
 
Though I had been raised in a Christian home, attended a Presbyterian church all of my life, and regularly read the Bible and prayed, somehow the insight of that moment had managed to elude me. Now, sitting alone in the family room and based on this sudden flash of understanding, I determined that I would become a follower of Jesus and try to live a life that was pleasing to God. I still vividly remember walking up the stairs that afternoon with a profound sense that my life was no longer my own, but was now to be lived at the direction of God. Since then, things have never been the same.
 
Looking back on it, I’m painfully aware of how much I didn’t understand and how little I knew. In fact, I’m fairly certain if I had known on that day all that my decision entailed I probably wouldn’t have made it. But I didn’t and I did. That’s an epiphany—a sudden and intuitive perception into the nature of things that produces change in the lives of those who experience it. It isn’t carefully considered, well thought out and nuanced, or rationally evaluated and intellectually justified. That comes later.
 
In the Western Christian tradition, Epiphany is the celebration of the manifestation of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles in the person of the Magi, aka wise men from the East. The story, found only in Matthew among the canonical Gospels, tells us that the Magi sought the child who had been born king of the Jews after seeing his star rising in the sky. They followed the star until it led them to the place where the child was with his mother. On seeing Jesus they were overwhelmed with joy and honored him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Then, having been warned in a dream, they escaped the wrath of Herod the Great.
 
For a while, I couldn’t help but think that the story of the Magi was pretty much like mine. They had an epiphany that pointed them to Jesus, committed themselves to a costly journey based on this revelation, and were thus caught up in a story they didn’t fully understand. But in time I came to realize that my story of epiphany was simply the continuation of the larger narrative of Epiphany—a narrative reaching back into time and moving forward into the future, stretching over the horizon drawing people from every tribe and nation to the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

 


O Antiphon:  Dayspring  
The Second Sunday after Christmas – Epiphany
O Antiphon:  Dayspring 
 

 

January 3
The Second Sunday after Christmas – Epiphany  
 
O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer our spirits by thine advent here; disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death’s dark shadows put to flight.

(Matthew 2:1-12)  In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.”   When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.  They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
 
‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”
 
Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.”  When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was.  When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.  On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.   And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

“ . . . Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  . . “
Gifts for Jesus!  As an adult, every time I hear or read this story of the three wise men and their offerings to Jesus, I wonder:  Why the gifts? What is their significance?  How would they know to offer anything? What precise message did they receive to know that this baby is the son of God? What were they feeling upon presenting these items? Upon what faith is their knowledge and reassurance so well grounded?
 
I’ve learned over time that both frankincense and myrrh were used widely for all sorts of medicinal and therapeutic purposes. In addition to their known fragrances, they were used as healing ointments and pain relievers and were highly valued as an offering of wellness. I’ve also learned that frankincense, when burned, was symbolic of prayer rising to the heavens; and myrrh was used in certain aspects of burial rituals. With just a little bit of study, one can see that these gifts have deep symbolic implications as presented to Jesus.
But maybe these gifts were offered simply because that’s what the wise men were able to provide. Perhaps, from their perspective, they knew they were on a special mission, but when the time came to actually greet Jesus and his family, these were the most practical items that could be offered?  
 
What are my practical gifts I can offer Jesus? In the Church, we always speak about providing our time, treasures and talents to serve the Lord. If I were to meet Jesus today, would my offering of time, treasure and talents be found acceptable to Him? Unlike the wise-men of 2000 plus years ago, we have the advantage of seeing so much more of the story through the chronology and legacy of historical scripture. And yet, with this knowledge, do we have even the same inkling of faith to offer our gifts to Jesus? 
 
I pray that as a new year unfolds, I might find more purpose to my time, treasure and talents and present them as gifts to Jesus in gratitude for all of the good he has shown in my life.  
 
—John Marshall, Elder, Class of 2018
 
 
 
 
 

O Antiphon: Root of Jesse’s Tree 
The First Sunday after Christmas
O Antiphon: Root of Jesse’s Tree 
 

 

December 27
The First Sunday after Christmas  
 
O come, thou Root of Jesse’s tree, an ensign of thy people be; before thee rulers silent fall; all peoples on thy mercy call.

(Luke 2:41-52) Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover.  And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival.  When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it.   Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends.  When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him.   After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.  And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.  When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.”  He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them.  Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.
 
And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.   

Ever notice how sometimes the Bible leaves us with more questions than answers? 
In this passage, Luke provides us with the only glimpse of the boy Jesus. As Jesus’ parents make their way home from the Passover feast in Jerusalem, after a day of travel with friends and relatives they suddenly realize the boy is not with them. How in the world did they lose him? Is this an ancient version of “Home Alone”?  Are these terrible parents, or was Jesus just so responsible and obedient that they never had reason to worry about him?  After three days of searching, can you imagine how frantic Mary and Joseph must have been? Oh, and what about the other years of Jesus’ life before 30?  What else did Jesus say and do?  Why just this one story?
 
After three days, we find Jesus sitting in the temple and “Everyone who heard him was amazed”.
What was he saying? Who fed him and took care of him? Didn’t they ask where his parents were?  Was he actually learning from these men or just confirming what he already suspected as the realization that He is the Messiah was taking shape in his mind? The only answer recorded was, “‘Why were you searching for me?’ he asked.  ‘Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?’”  Now that’s quite an answer. Who else could give it?  Yet, his parents did not understand even after 12 years with Jesus!  But this we do know.  From an early age Jesus knew who he was. Jesus was drawn to his Father. And Jesus amazed the people.  
 
Yes, Jesus is amazing.    
 
—Steve Haigh, Elder, Class of 2017
 
 
 
 

O Antiphon: Wisdom - “Jesus is the Wisdom of God” 
The Fourth Sunday of Advent
O Antiphon: Wisdom - “Jesus is the Wisdom of God”
 
 
 

 

December 20
The Fourth Sunday of Advent  
 
O come, thou Wisdom from on high, who orderest all things mightily; to us the path of knowledge show, and teach us in her ways to go.

(John 1:1-18)  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.  All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
 
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
 
He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.  He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.  But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God,  who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
 
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.  (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”)  From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.     
 
 

Being decisive is something that challenges me. Not about the little things, the “no brainers” as my kids like to say.  It’s the broader things, like, “Is this where you want me to be Lord?  Am I doing your will, or my will?  Lord, I sense a change happening.  What’s next?  Please guide me.”  
The apostle Paul says to “pray without ceasing,” and it’s something I’ve taken to heart the past few years.  We all need guidance, and most of us seek to do God’s will.  In Proverbs much is written about wisdom and knowledge.   It is good to have knowledge, and it is even better to have wisdom, for wisdom is the right use of knowledge.  
 
In the passage John 1:1-18, I love how the passage begins with the Word being at the beginning and that it was God.  The references to “the light” and how it penetrates darkness is reassuring and provides great hope.  Knowing Christ came into the world as God’s only Son, Word Incarnate, brings promise of salvation and great joy.  Through worship and reading God’s Word we gain wisdom and understanding.  It is through studying God’s word, living by the lessons Jesus taught, and through worship that we gain wisdom.  
 
There are days when I struggle with understanding God’s design on my life.  I read, I pray, I question, I wait, I listen.  He delivers His answers in His time frame.  I learn to trust that His will be done and it is better than mine.  I’m so very grateful that through Jesus, we all are born children of God, and through Him we have access to grace and truth.  
—Catherine Donaldson, Elder, Class of 2018
 

 


O Antiphon: Thou Key of David - “Davidic King”
The Third Sunday of Advent
O Antiphon: Thou Key of David - “Davidic King”
 

 

December 13
The Third Sunday of Advent
 
O come, thou Key of David, come, and open wide our heavenly home; make safe the way that leads on high, and close the path to misery.

(Luke 1:26-38) In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”  But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.  The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.   And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.   He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David.  He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”  Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”  The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.  And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren.  For nothing will be impossible with God.”  Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”  Then the angel departed from her.

The verses of the Advent hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” bring back many “anticipation of Christmas” memories for me. Sometime in the year 1956, a new pastor came to the church in which I grew up, Carrollton Avenue Evangelical and Reformed Church, at 44th and Carrollton Avenue on the Indianapolis north side. Why I remember this so vividly is 1956 was the year of the Hungarian Revolution and Rev. Frank J. Erdey was of Hungarian ancestry, thick mid - European accent and all. And he had the Reformed theology to back it up though I was too young to appreciate that or even understand what that was.
 
His first Advent season with us in 1956 brought the singing of the hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” as the first hymn we sang each Sunday of Advent. The hymn was new to me, but we came to know that “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” had deep roots in Rev. Erdey’s Hungarian soul. His Sunday garb was a little off-putting; a long black flowing cape with what looked like hundreds of small knife pleats all the way to the floor!
 
What a contrast to the simple Christmas Eve garb worn by the shepherds to keep warm in the chill that night that has come to mean so much to us! Their wraps were sturdy and meant for warmth in the night while they kept a close eye on their sheep in the hills. I wasn’t old enough to make such a contrast then, but as an adult many years later, I do.
 
Coming forward many years to the early 2000’s, my son Bill was home for Christmas. We attended Christmas Eve service and left the church to that magical Christmas Eve snow.  When we arrived home, I stood in the driveway to take in the beauty of such a ‘Silent Night’. There was steady snow in a silence you could hear! I wondered if that must have been what Christmas Eve so long ago sounded like—I hope so! Such a wonderful gift to us ushered into the world by simple shepherds in simple wraps on a night of silent, starlit wonder!
 
—Jan Millholland, Elder, Class of 2016
 
 

O Antiphon:  “Prince of Peace”
The Second Sunday of Advent
O Antiphon:  “Prince of Peace”

 

December 6
The Second Sunday of Advent
 
O come, Desire of nations, bind
in one the hearts of all mankind;
bid thou our sad divisions cease,
and be thyself our King of Peace. 

 

(John 14:25-27)  “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”

“Hello.” “Hi there, how are you?” “How’s it going?” “What’s new?” 
 
A few common greetings in our modern time. We reflexively say these things in passing to friends and neighbors, we all understand this is a simple greeting. Nothing more. In reality, no one actually wants to know exactly how you are doing – just a greeting.    
 
Often we don’t have time for anything more. This is a busy time of year! We are preparing for Christmas, coping with the stress of travel, watching what we eat, managing unexpected guests, fighting the crowds, preparing for the extended family! Who could blame us that our main form of greeting is a simple, hollow, “Hi.”
 
It is only when we are encouraged each Sunday to pass the peace that we use a more ancient form of salutation. Commonly used at a time when a stranger ran a much higher probability of being an enemy:  “Peace be with you.”
 
While we say “Peace be with you,” in John 14:25-27 Jesus shows us a different greeting: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.”  
This is just one more example of a moment when Jesus turns something commonplace into something extraordinary. Our greetings are common. His greeting is the gift of God’s peace.
 
So, perhaps the next time we say those empty, courteous phrases, let us remember to not miss the opportunity to give. Unlike the other gifts we give this time of year, the gift of peace costs us so little and means so much. Let’s make that greeting matter.
Peace be with you.
- Kevin Lewis, Elder, Class of 2018
 
 

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