1st December is the start of Advent. Officially, at least according to the Church calendar, it’s not yet Christmas. Officially, it’s Advent. This time of preparation is among the most important seasons of the Christian calendar. Reflecting on God’s promises throughout history, first to Israel and then to the Church, is a remarkable way to cultivate and reinforce a Christian worldview in our hearts and minds.
For nearly two millennia, Advent has called Christians to understand life between the two bookends of God’s redemptive acts in Christ: His Incarnation, when the Word became flesh, and His coming again in glory to judge the living and the dead.
Advent is a time to recall God’s utter and unstoppable faithfulness to His people. Though Israel failed to keep its covenant with God, made at Sinai and renewed on several occasions afterwards, He always intended to keep His covenant with Abraham, that “through your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” That offspring was, of course, Jesus Christ.
Throughout Church history, reflecting on God’s faithfulness has led to the inspiration and production of many great hymns, including the one most identified with Advent, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” The lyrics of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” are taken from what are called the “O Antiphons.” An antiphon is a phrase or short sentence recited or sung either before or after a psalm or other passage of Scripture.
The “O Antiphons” belong to Christian antiquity. Roman philosopher Boethius, who lived in the late fifth and early sixth centuries, alludes to them in his writings. One scholar suggests that, “in some fashion, the O Antiphons have been part of our liturgical tradition since the very early Church.” And, since at least the eighth century, the “O Antiphons” have been set aside for the week preceding Christmas Eve, December 17 to 23.
The O Antiphons, like the hymn they produced, offer a journey through salvation history. Each Antiphon includes both a Messianic title, a reminder of who Christ is, and the invitation, “Come,” a reminder of our helpless state and need for divine rescue.
Christ is the Wisdom of God (Isaiah 11). He is Adonai, the Lord our lawgiver and judge, who will save us (Isaiah 33). He is the root of Jesse’s stem, whom the Gentiles will seek (Isaiah 11). He is the Key of David, who unlocks the doors of our prison. He is the Radiant Dawn, the light that shined upon the people who dwelt in darkness (Isaiah 9). He is the King of the Nations (Isaiah 2). And of course, He is Emmanuel, God with us (Isaiah 7).
This sort of theological profundity, which cannot be found on any of the 24-hour Christmas music stations, is worthy of our silence, reflection, and meditations.
My Colson Center colleagues have prepared a free, downloadable booklet featuring an explanation of each of the O Antiphons, a short meditation on their meaning, and quotes from Christians throughout history on the wonder of Advent. The booklet is called Emmanuel: Readings for Advent. Come to breakpoint.org to receive this gift from our team to you and your family.
Exploring these remarkable statements about the nature and work of Christ is a wonderful way to intentionally engage with the season of Advent.