Reflections for the four Sundays of Advent based on the “Great Advent Antiphons”

First Sunday in Advent

“O come, O come Emmanuel” is a well known advent hymn. Its words come from the Great Advent Antiphons, refrains which are said or sung daily before and after psalms and canticles from the 17th to the 23rd December. The refrains draw on Old Testament imagery and look forward to the coming of Christ. On each of the Sundays in Advent we’ll be reflecting on what these refrains might mean to us today.

The first “O Sapienta”,  is used on the 17th December. “O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High, and reaching mightily from one end of the earth to the other, ordering all things well: Come and teach us the way of prudence.”

The Most High God speaks the Word and all creation comes into being. Jesus is the Word and Wisdom of God in human form. Our hunger for knowledge of him and his presence in our lives is our response to his calling. God reveals himself to us in ways and at times he chooses. Our prayer is for the wisdom and insight to recognise the revelations of God when they come to us. It may be in the busy shops; at the office party or while we’re baking yet more mince pies. What we can be sure of is that if we offer ourselves to receive God’s Word and Wisdom He will speak to us and come into our lives in a new way this Advent.

Second Sunday in Advent

“O Adonai, 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.”

“O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign to the people, before whom kings shall shut their mouths and whom the nations shall seek: Come and deliver us and do not delay”.

These words remind us that Jesus was born into the heritage and culture of the people of Israel. He grew up knowing the history of his people, the bad times and the good, the kings and the prophets. He certainly would have learnt about Moses, the law-giver. Moses encountered God in a burning bush and was given a task for which he felt totally inadequate. But God equipped him to live out his vocation to lead the people of Israel out of slavery and on to Mount Sinai.

The prophets, whose words Jesus knew well, said that the long awaited Messiah would be a sign to all people that God is present among us. That was the vocation of Jesus, to show us in human terms what God is like. We, too, are given a vocation and part of that is to pray that all nations will seek this King of Kings and, without a word, put themselves under his just rule.

Third Sunday of Advent

“O Key of David, and sceptre of the house of Israel, who opens and no one can shut, shuts and no one can open: Come and bring the prisoners from the prison house, who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.”

“O Dayspring, splendour of light eternal and sun of righteousness. Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.”

For many people Advent is not a time of hopeful expectation. Many are tormented by despair or mental illness longing to be released from the darkness surrounding them. Many are in the shadow of death as their life draws to its close. Many are facing their first Christmas without someone they love. Bereavement, through illness, accident or war, is especially painful at this time when death throws its shadow on those still living. We can all be imprisoned by our fears and doubts, by our inability to forgive others, by guilt for things we have said or done that cannot be unsaid or undone. We may feel powerless to help ourselves or others but we can turn to the one who has the power to break through prison walls, the one who can lead us into the freedom of new hope and healing. The daylight of Christ shines from the sun of goodness and mercy which can never be overcome by the darkness in our world.

Fourth Sunday of Advent

“O King of the nations, and their desire, the cornerstone making both one: Come and save us, whom you formed from the dust.”

“O Emmanuel, our king and lawgiver, the desire of all nations and their Saviour: Come and save us, O Lord our God”

At Christmas we pray that Christ will be born again in our hearts. We look to him as our Saviour and the light by which we live. Christ does indeed come to each and every person but he also comes into this world as King of the nations. When Jesus is born the Kingdom of God arrives on earth. Its full realisation among the nations, though, is dependent upon how the world responds to Christ’s coming. Only when the world, that was made by him, recognises him and only when his own people receive him will Christ’s reign be fully established. In Advent we prepare for the return of Christ at the end of time. We call him the desire of all nations but are the nations ready for what will be a time of reckoning and judgment? We call him to come and save us but have we done all we can to save ourselves? Let us not allow the image of Jesus born as a helpless baby to prevent us from seeing Christ the King and Judge returning in glory, his light drawing out all that has been hidden and bringing judgment on all people.