Thursday, 17 December 2009

'O' is for the O Antiphons of Advent... O Sapientia

Over the next seven days, as we come speeding down the final stretch of Advent, we meet one of the great liturgical traditions: the O Antiphons.
The O Antiphons were the inspiration for that great hymn 'O Come, O Come Emmanuel'.
Each of the seven antiphons is based on the words of the prophet Isaiah, and is a name / attribute of Christ.  In the Latin texts, the first initial of each of the words run as:  S - A - R - C - O - R - E.
Reversed, in Latin, it becomes 'Ero Cras', meaning 'tomorrow I will come' - so a mirror image, if you like, of the antiphons.  And on the 'mirror' theme, my plan for this next seven days is to hold up a reflective mirror to the antiphons....
And so we start with:

O Sapientia - O Wisdom...

O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, 
attingens a fine usque ad finem,
fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia:   
veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.
O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High,
reaching from one end to the other mightily,
and sweetly ordering all things:
Come and teach us the way of prudence.

From the book of the prophet Isaiah, 11: 2,3 -
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear;
 and...
28: 29 -
This also comes from the Lord of hosts;
he is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in wisdom.

Earlier this year, I was wondering just what wisdom is.
Moving towards the birth of Jesus, this first of the O Antiphons is a powerful reminder of God overturning definitions, of refusing to be contained by what we might call common sense pragmatism.
How wise is it, to come into a harsh, and terrifying world,
a world in which life is cheap and where might and power crush the weak and the vulnerable?
To save the world from itself, surely the wise thing would have been to match power with power, to fight might with might?
And yet...
Wisdom is born:
in a draughty stable.
Wisdom is heard:
in the wail of a child.
Wisdom is seen:
in the tiny scrap of human flesh,
brought shivering into the world,
dependant on the hospitality of the human heart to take him in.
God all powerful,
God all vulnerable.
Overturning delusions and illusions of what power truly is.
Wisdom is born when we, too, like him are prepared to strip away the defences,
to be vulnerable,
to be real.   
O Sapientia, O Wisdom,
teach us your wisdom this day, and always.

O come, O come, Emmanuel.

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