This Sunday begins our four week journey of waiting, watching, hoping. True, we know what we are waiting and hoping for, but we take this season of Advent as a time to quiet our minds and renew our hope for the coming Savior. I love the hymns of Advent, and no hymn better captures the duality of Advent – this season that calls us to joy and penance – than O come, o come Emmanuel. It reflects this time in our liturgical life that is filled with images of light and dark, beginnings and end times, the comfort of God’s word and the discomfort of the prophets’ words. These “O” antiphons, as they are known, are adaptations of medieval texts that were sung before and after the chanting of the Magnificat in the seven days preceding Christmas Eve. My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my savior, the first line of the Magnificat, is Mary’s marvelous response to God’s plan for her.
Each verse of Veni Emmanuel (56 in The Hymnal 1982) begins with a Salutation in the form of a name for God, and then a petition based on that name:
(December 17) O Sapienta – O come, thou Wisdom, to us the path of knowledge show
(December 18) O Adonai – O come, thou Lord of might, that didst give the law
(December 19) O Radix Jesse – O come, thou Branch of Jesse’s tree, give them victory o’er the grave
(December 20) O Clavis David – O come, thou Key of David, make safe the way that leads on high
(December 21) O Oriens – O come, thou Dayspring from on high, disperse the gloomy clouds of night
(December 22) O Rex gentium – O come, Desire of nations, be thyself our King of Peace
(December 23) O Emmanuel – O come, Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel
The medieval minds behind these texts are believed to have taken the point a step further. The first letters of these Latin names for Christ, when taken in reverse order, form an acrostic that spells ERO CRAS.
I will be (with you) tomorrow.
It is good to have hope. Let the music of Veni Emmanuel keep you company as you wait and watch and hope.