O Come, O Come Emmanuel
Beginning on the 17 December of each Advent season, and for the next seven days, a special antiphon known as an O Antiphon is read before the Magnificat during Evening Prayer. Sometimes called the Greater Antiphons, or the O’s of Advent (because they begin with that exclamation), the O Antiphons differ from the daily antiphons because they herald the coming birth of Christ. Originally written in Latin around the seventh or eighth centuries, these special antiphons express humanity’s desire and longing for God, a longing which has existed throughout the history of God’s people, from the beginning of time through Abraham, Moses and David, and fulfilled on the night when Emmanuel (God with us) was born. Each prayer begins with one of the seven titles attributed to Jesus’ Old Testament title for the Messiah.
O Wisdom, you come forth from the mouth of the Most High. You fill the universe and hold all things together in a strong yet gentle manner. O come to teach us the way of truth. Happy the man who discovers wisdom, the man who gains discernment: gaining her is more rewarding than silver, more profitable than gold. She is beyond the price of pearls, nothing you could covet is her equal. In her right hand is length of days; in her left hand, riches and honour. Her ways are delightful ways, her paths all lead to contentment. She is a tree of life for those who hold her fast, those who cling to her live happy lives. By wisdom, the Lord set the earth on its foundations, by discernment, he fixed the heavens firm. Through his knowledge the depths were carved out, and the clouds rain down the dew. (Proverbs 3:13-20)
O Adonai and leader of Israel, you appeared to Moses in a burning bush and you gave him the Law on Sinai. O come and save us with your mighty power.
Moses was looking after the flock of Jethro, his father-in-law, priest of Midian. He led his flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in the shape of a flame of fire, coming from the middle of a bush. Moses looked; there was the bush blazing but it was not being burnt up. ‘I must go and look at this strange sight,’ Moses said ‘and see why the bush is not burnt.’ Now the Lord saw him go forward to look, and God called him from the middle of the bush. ‘Moses, Moses!’ he said. ‘Here I am’ he answered. ‘Come no nearer’ he said. ‘Take off your shoes, for the place on which you stand is holy ground. I am the God of your father,’ he said ‘the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.’ At this Moses covered his face, afraid to look at God.
O stock of Jesse, you stand as a signal for the nations; kings fall silent before you whom the peoples acclaim. O come to deliver us, and do not delay.
A shoot springs from the stock of Jesse,
a scion thrusts from his roots:
on him the spirit of the Lord rests,
a spirit if wisdom and insight,
a spirit of counsel and power,
a spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.
(The fear of the Lord is his breath.)
He does not judge by appearances,
he gives no verdict on hearsay,
but judges the wretched with integrity,
and with equity gives a verdict for the poor of the land.
His word is a rod that strikes the ruthless,
his sentences bring death to the wicked.
Integrity is the loincloth round his waist,
faithfulness the belt around his hips.
O key of David and sceptre of Israel, what you open no one else can close again; what you close no one can open. O come lead the captive from prison; free those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.
On the same day I call on my servant,
Eliakim son of Hilkiah.
I invest him with your robe,
gird him with your sash,
entrust him with your authority;
And he shall be a father
to the inhabitants of Jerusalem
and to the house of Judah.
I place the key of the house of David
on his shoulder;
should he open, no one shall close,
should he close, no one shall open.
I drive him like a peg into a firm place;
he will become a throne of glory
for his father’s house.
(Isaiah 22: 20-23)
O Rising Sun, you are the splendour of the eternal light and the sun of justice. O come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.
Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
for he has visited his people, he has come to their rescue
and he has raised up for us a power for salvation
in the House of his servant David,
even as he proclaimed,
by the mouth of his holy prophets from ancient times,
that he would save us from our enemies
and from the hands of all who hate us.
Thus he shows mercy to our ancestors,
thus he remembers his holy covenant,
the oath he swore to our father Abraham
that he would grant us, free from fear,
to be delivered from the hands of our enemies,
to serve him in holiness and virtue
in his presence, all our days.
And you, little child,
you shall be called Prophet of the Most High,
for you will go before the Lord
to prepare the way for him.
To give his people knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins;
this by the tender mercy of our God
who from on high will bring the rising Sun to visit us,
to give light to those who live in darkness
and the shadow of death,
and to guide our feet into the way of peace.
O King whom all the peoples desire, you are the cornerstone which makes all one. O come and save man whom you made from clay.
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the House of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. He went in and said to her, ‘Rejoice, so highly favoured! The Lord is with you.’ She was deeply disturbed by these words and asked herself what this could mean, but the angel said to her, ‘Mary, do not be afraid; you have won God’s favour. Listen! You are to conceive and bear a son and you must name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David; he will rule over the House of Jacob for ever and his reign will have no end.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘But how can this come about, since I am a virgin?’ ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you,’ the angel answered, ‘and the power of the Holy Spirit will cover you with its shadow. And so the child will be holy and will be called the Son of God. Know this too: your kinswoman Elizabeth has, in her old age, herself conceived a son, and she whom people called barren is now in her sixth month, for nothing is impossible to God.’ ‘I am the handmaid of the Lord,’ said Mary, ‘Let what you have said be done to me.’ And the angel left her.
O Emmanuel, you are our king and judge, the One whom the peoples await and their Saviour. O come and save us, Lord, our God.
Once again the Lord spoke to Ahaz and said,
‘Ask the Lord your God for a sign for yourself
coming either from the depths of Sheol
or from the heights above.’
‘No,’ Ahaz answered,
‘I will not put the Lord to the test.’
Then he said:
‘Listen now, House of David:
are you not satisfied with trying the patience of men
without trying the patience of my God, too?
The Lord himself, therefore,
will give you a sign.
It is this: the maiden is with child
and will soon give birth to a son
whom she will call Immanuel,
a name which means ‘God-is-with-us’.’