Saturday, December 25, 2010

All decked out for Christmas

Trinity Episcopal Church in Dublin, TX on Christmas Eve 2010.

St Matthew's Episcopal Church in Comanche TX on Christmas Eve 2010.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

O come, Emmanuel

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Latin translation of O Emmanuel
O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver, the hope of the nations and their Savior: Come and save us, O Lord our God.

Advent Carol

O come, O come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lowly exile here until the Son of God appear. Rejoice, rejoice. Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

The antiphon for December 23rd is based upon theme of the incarnation of the Son of God. St John wrote in his gospel, "The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14). Likewise, Isaiah prophesied, "Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel" (Isaiah 7:14), which name means "God with us" (see also Matthew 1:22).

Messianic biblical prophecies of future events work on two levels—they have an immediate application to events in the near future; they also have a long term application in the unfolding of our salvation. We see an example of that here in Isaiah.

In the immediate context, the Prophet Isaiah is confronting the King Ahaz (who is inspecting the city’s fortifications after losing several battles) to renew his faith with the sign of a child who will be an oracle that God is in fact not with our enemies; rather, God is with us. But this verse also spoke of a deeper fulfillment in God’s plan of salvation.

When St. Matthew tells the story in his Gospel of the angel Gabriel’s visit to the Virgin Mary to announce the birth of Jesus, Matthew tells us, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us).”

With the virgin motherhood of blessed Mary, God has given us a sign . . . an oracle to say that God is no longer in distant heavens; God is with us. God is now one of us. The Word has become flesh and dwells among us. This is what we call the incarnation. At Christmastime, God unwraps the gift that keeps on giving. The gift of the Christ child is the fount of grace which wells up at the cross.

"Therefore, following the holy fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance (homo-ousios) with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin; as regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten, for us men and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, the God-bearer (Theotokos); one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ; even as the prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the creed of the Fathers has handed down to us." (Definition of the Union of the Divine and Human Natures in the Person of Christ, Council of Chalcedon, 451 A.D., Act V, quoted in the Book of Common Prayer, p 864.)

Although these antiphons and dates have been common throughout the western Church, our Anglican patrimony includes an alternative medieval English usage that arose of moving all of the antiphons forward by one day (commencing on 16 December) and adding an additional eighth antiphon on 23 December, as follows:

Latin translation of O Virgo virginum
O Virgin of virgins, how shall this be? For neither before thee was any like thee, nor shall there be after. Daughters of Jerusalem, why marvel ye at me? The thing which ye behold is a divine mystery.

Unfortunately, no paraphrase of this antiphon was included in the Advent carol. But as with the previous antiphon, the motherhood of this virgin is a sign that God is both the Father above, and that God is the Son who has come to dwell among us.

Mary’s virginity is hailed as an outward sign of her purity of soul. The Greek Liturgies of St Basil the Great and St John Chrysostom call her Panagia (the “All-Holy One”) and Panagiota (the “All-Sinless One”). Thus, she is the Virgin of virgins, the exemplar of chastity and virtue.

Archbishop of Canterbury William Wake, outlined the Church of England’s view on Mary in a sermon in 1688, saying, “We believe her to have been a most pure, and holy, and virtuous creature: . . . that her virgin mind was clean and spotless, as her body chaste and immaculate; and that she was upon the account of both, the most fit of any of her race or sex for the Holy Ghost to over-shadow, and for the Son of the most highest to inhabit.”

George Hickes, the Dean of Worcester also commented on the theme of the purity of Mary in one of his sermons: “She that was the Mother of God could not be [anything] but a very good woman; she that conceived, and bare, and brought forth the holy Child Jesus, the Virgin Mother of Immanuel, . . . surely must have been pure, as he was pure, and holy, as he was holy.”

Since March, she has been the tabernacle of God, carrying the seed of promise, the holy Child whom God foretold would crush the serpent’s head. St Irenaeus of Lyons in the 2nd Century put it this way, “And so the knot tied by Eve’s disobedience was unloosed through the obedience of Mary; for what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the Virgin Mary free through faith.” May God engender the same faith in our hearts.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

O come, Desire of nations

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Latin translation of O Rex Gentium
O King of the nations, and their desire, the cornerstone making both one: Come and save the human race, which you fashioned from clay.

Advent Carol
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. Rejoice, rejoice. Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

The antiphon for December 22 is based upon the Lordship of Christ the King. The acclamation at his entry into Jerusalem is just as applicable to his birth: "Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord" (Luke 19:38). It was known that he would be born in Bethlehem, and the wise men sought him out, because he was the anointed heir to the throne of King David. He would be the Prince of peace.

Of him, Isaiah prophesied, "He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore" (Isaiah 2:4). St Paul noted, "He must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet" (1 Corinthians 15:25).

Although he was arrested on the charge of being a blasphemer, Jesus was ultimately sentence under Roman law for treason--for claiming to be the "King of the Jews," as was ordered to be written on the titulus of his cross in Latin, Hebrew, and Greek.

When Pilate questioned him about this charge, Jesus replied, “My kingdom is not of this world.” Notice, he did not deny being a king. He simply said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” Pilate said to him, “So you are a king then?” Jesus answered, “You have said it; I am a king. This is why I was born, and why I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice” (John 18:36-37).

When he suspected Jesus of being born in Bethlehem, Jesus would no longer speak when interrogated about this, and Pilate sought to release him, but instead decided to appease the mob. We need the Lord Jesus. We need the Light of God to shine in our hearts. We need the reign of Christ over all nations, all peoples, and every heart, to be come be realized in our lawless world. Maranantha! Even so, Lord Jesus, quickly come!

Our prayer in the antiphon today is that all would listen to his truthful voice and submit to his most gracious rule.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

O come, thou Dayspring from on high

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Latin translation of O Oriens Splendor
O Morning Star, splendor of light eternal and sun of righteousness: Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

Advent Carol
O come, thou Dayspring from on high, and cheer us by thy drawing nigh; disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death's dark shadow put to flight. Rejoice, rejoice. Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

The antiphon for December 21st is based upon the image of Jesus as the "Light of the world," so prominent in John's gospel. John’s gospel opens by hailing Jesus as the “Light of the world,” coming to shine in our hearts and dispel spiritual darkness. His first and second Advents are both described as dawnings. The morning star in Revelation 22 is a symbol of God drawing closer to his people. (see Revelation 22:16). Isaiah prophesied, "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined" (Isaiah 9:2).

Because we worship Jesus, the Dayspring, churches have been traditionally built with the altar at the eastern end, so that the faithful would worship the Lord toward the rising sun. John of Damascus explained, "It is not without reason or by chance that we worship towards the East. But seeing that we are composed of a visible and an invisible nature, that is to say, of a nature partly of spirit and partly of sense, we render also a twofold worship to the Creator; just as we sing both with our spirit and our bodily lips, and are baptized with both water and Spirit, and are united with the Lord in a twofold manner, being sharers in the mysteries and in the grace of the Spirit. Since, therefore, God is spiritual light, and Christ is called in the Scriptures Sun of Righteousness and Dayspring, the East is the direction that must be assigned to his worship. . . . And when he was received again into heaven he was borne towards the East, and thus his apostles worship him, and thus he will come again in the way in which they beheld him going towards heaven; as the Lord himself said, 'As the lightning cometh out of the East and shineth even unto the West, so also shall the coming of the Son of Man be'."

We are all desperately in need of a Savior, a Redeemer who is capable of ransoming us from the darkness of our sins. Sin clouds our intellect and darkens our will. We need light from above. Let us not shun the light, but look for it and run towards it.

Jesus said, “And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19). Jesus brings clarity and light back to our souls when we are baptized or when we return to him through the sacrament of penance.

Monday, December 20, 2010

O come, thou Key of David

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Latin translation of O Clavis David
O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel; you open and no one can shut; you shut and no one can open: Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house, those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

Advent Carol
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. Rejoice, rejoice. Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

The antiphon for December 20th is based on the image of Jesus as Savior, who reconciles God and man and is himself the very key that reopens the gates of paradise which were shut after the Fall (see Genesis 3:23-24).

Isaiah prophesied that work of the Savior was to release those who were held captive by sin (see Isaiah 42:7). Isaiah also foretold of the Messiah that God would “place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and no one shall shut; he shall shut, and no one shall open” (Isaiah 22:22). And that, “His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and for evermore” (Isaiah 9:7).

In Isaiah’s day, David’s descendant King Hezekiah cleansed and restored the Temple. As a type of the Christ to come, Hezekiah rose from a dire illness on the third day. He entrusted to his steward Eliakim, the “key of David”—his authority—as an office to be handed on.

So likewise Jesus entrusted to St. Peter and all the apostles the “keys of the kingdom” (see Matthew 16:17-19). This was especially the authority to declare true doctrine and denounce heresy as well as the authority to bind and loose people from the shackles of sin. The church still exercises the power of those keys to this day.

When the Lord died on His Cross and rose again, he ransomed “captive Israel.” Then he descended to the dead to proclaim redemption and set them free. He still does the same for us, visiting us through his ministers. The bishop or priest of the church, exercising the keys, speaks with Christ’s voice. He teaches and absolves sinners with the authority entrusted to him by Christ.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

O come, thou Root of Jesse's tree

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Latin translation of O Radix Jesse
O Root of Jesse, standing as an ensign among the peoples; before you kings will shut their mouths, to you the nations will make their prayer: Come and deliver us, and delay no longer.

Advent Carol
O come, O come, thou Branch of Jesse's tree, free them from Satan's tyranny, that trust thy mighty power to save, and give them victory o'er the grave. Rejoice, rejoice. Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

The antiphon for December 19th is based on the lineage of Jesus as the Messiah from the house of David. Isaiah prophesied: “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.” And, “In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for all peoples.” (Isaiah 11:1, 11).

David’s father is Jesse, so the shoot (the new budding branch) is David’s progeny. This ancestry of Jesus, the "Son of David" is recorded at the beginning of Matthew’s gospel and in Luke 3.

A Jesse Tree in the home, then an Advent custom of using a collection of symbols that portray the fact that Jesus has come, as predicted, from the root of Jesse. A small tree or branch is decorated with these ornaments representing Adam, Noah, Abraham, and so on. It also reminds us God had promised Adam and Eve that their descendant would crush the head of the serpent who led to their fall.

Jesus was also born in Bethlehem, David’s home town, as the Prophet Micah foretold, “Out of you (Bethlehem) will come one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” (Micah 5:2). The name David means “beloved” and St. John tells us that God so loved the world that he gave us his Son Jesus, whom the Father calls “the beloved” at his baptism.

What urgency there is this antiphon! Something that lies below the earth (a root) stands high like a banner! What is a little root during Advent becomes by Lent the Tree of salvation. The Prophet Isaiah tells us that the kingdom of David would be destroyed, but a root would remain. It is the root of Jesse’s tree leading to Christ. And the Prophet Micah reassures us it would spring up again in Bethlehem, the city of David.

After reminding us of Jesus’ Davidic heritage, the next day’s antiphon refers to Christ as David’s key. See this page from Fisheaters for information about the custom of making a Jesse tree during Advent.

Friday, December 17, 2010

O come, thou Lord of might

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Latin translation of O Adonai
O Lord and leader of the House of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush and gave him the law on Sinai: Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm.

Advent Carol
O come, O come, thou Lord of might, who to thy tribes on Sinai's height in ancient times didst give the Law in cloud and majesty and awe. Rejoice, rejoice. Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

The antiphon for December 18th is based on the manifestation of God on Mount Sinai in the Book of the Exodus. God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses, and the Torah (or "Law of Moses") became both the foundation of Jewish faith and life as well as the dawn of ethical monotheism in world history.

Adonai or “Lord” was the Hebrew word that the Jews used for the divine Name of Yahweh. We use it for Christ, the Wisdom from on high who is Lord of all creation. Christ is also Lord of the Covenant with the people he chose. The Lord made covenants with Noah, Abraham, and Moses.

He guided his people Israel and gave them the Law. He protected and feed them in the wilderness. The Lord delivered them from unending slavery and bondage to Pharaoh. He went before them in the wilderness with an outstretched arm. All this pre-figured the great work of redemption that Christ did on the Cross. The Messiah was the one who would bring God's Law to fulfillment. He redeemed us his people from Satan and the eternal damnation of hell.

He once appeared clothed in the burning bush before Moses at Sinai. He has also appeared clothed in flesh at Bethlehem. He will appear again one day in glory to judge the living and the dead. And he is with us even now, veiled in the holy Mystery of the Eucharist.

What amazing contrasts we find in our Lord! He came in thunder and lightning to give the Law on Mount Sinai. At Christmas he comes in swaddling clothes. He will come again in glory. He comes humbly in the appearance of Bread and Wine.

We have great cause for rejoicing this holiday season. We can gather to celebrate Jesus’ birth, confident in a certain hope that he is true Wisdom, come down from on high, who guides us to salvation and reigns even now as Lord. And we rejoice that what we behold even now in types and shadows will be brought to perfect fulfillment when he comes again in glory.

Jesus said, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them" (Matthew 5:17). The Messiah was seen as one who would represent the rule of God's law and bring it to fulfillment (see Isaiah 11:4-5). As Lord, "he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet" (1 Corinthians 15:25). As Savior, Jesus fulfilled the obligations of the Law on behalf of sinners (see Romans 8:1-4).

O come, thou Wisdom from on high

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Today the "Great O" antiphons on the Magnificat begin. I shall post them day-by-day from both the Latin translation and the more familiar version in the Advent Carol (#59 in the Hymnal 1982).

Latin translation of O Sapientia
O Wisdom, which camest out of the mouth of the Most High, and reachest from one end to another, mightily and sweetly ordering all things: Come and teach us the way of prudence.

Advent Carol
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.
Rejoice, rejoice. Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

The antiphon today is based on the description of Wisdom in Sirach 24. In the New Testament, Christ is called "the power of God and the wisdom of God" who is wise as well as righteous on our behalf (1 Corinthians 1:24, 30). St. Paul also describes Jesus as involved in creation, as Wisdom was described as active in creation in the Old Testament (see Proverbs 8). "He is before all things," St Paul wrote, "and in him all things hold together" (Colossians 1:17).

King Solomon asked for wisdom above all, as the most precious gift of God. It was said in the Old Testament that the Messiah would be full of wisdom (Isaiah 11:2). In Jewish philosophical theology, the wisdom of God was equated with the divine Logos, or "Word" which St John said was "made flesh and dwelt among us" in the person of Jesus (John 1:14). It is also significant that Jesus is visited by wise men at his birth, is found as a boy with the teachers in the Temple, and as an adult marvels others by teaching on his own authority. Jesus possibly referred to himself as the Wisdom of God in Matthew 11:9; 12:42; and in Luke 7:35; 11:31.

There are several variations on the lists and texts in Western rite uses. Here's what's coming in the most common uses between now and the Eve of the Nativity:
December 18: O Adonai (Lord)
December 19: O Radix Jesse (Root of Jesse)
December 20: O clavis David (Key of David)
December 21: O Oriens Splendor (Dawn)
December 22: O rex gentium (King)
December 23: O Emmanuel (God with us)

The marvelous icon above--"The Birth of God," written by Nicholas Markell--is available for purchase at Bridge Building Images.