The Great O Antiphon “O Lord” is sung on December 18. Its lyrics are,
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.
We find its present expression in the verse of the Advent hymn, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” which reads,
O come, O come, great Lord of might,
who to your tribes on Sinai’s height
in ancient times did give the law
in cloud and majesty and awe.
At Grace Presbyterian where I pastor, we are working through several of the antiphons this Advent. For some, this particular verse may not seem too Christmasy, but I think that reflects the disconnect we have with the significance of God coming to Moses and giving Israel his Name.
Promising to deliver, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, came down and revealed himself to Moses (a shepherd) somewhere in the fringes of civilization and in the most unlikely way. When the Lord came to Moses he sent him to tell the captive Israelites, “I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment” (Exodus 6:6). The “arm of the Lord” is a metaphor for God’s ability which is picked up later by Isaiah (Isaiah 53 especially). The apostle John in his gospel (John 12) uses the same passage to ask his readers if they understand the significance of who Jesus is by quoting Isaiah 53, “to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” John is asking, “Do you see? Do you see just how far the Lord is reaching out to redeem?”
Advent is a season of seeing our needs and admitting our longings. Lancia Smith writes that Advent is a “truth-telling event”. In this antiphon we admit the truth that in many of our circumstances, we believe that the Lord’s arm is too short. We still need him to come, to reach out, and to redeem.
Here is a sonnet based upon the Great O Antiphon, O Lord.
If it’s helpful, you may listen to me read the via the audio player.
From Sinai’s bush which blazed in holy fire
You answered, “I AM!”, gave Moses your name.
And promised your arm would reach, never tire
’Til you saved your son from slav’ry and shame.
And even while gath’ring the bread sent each day
Sheltered beneath Sinai’s thundering peak
The people yet complain, reject, and stray
From HIM WHO IS deliv’er of the weak.
O Lord, redeem! My arms cannot bear
The doing demands which Legality lords,
Nor can avoid the tangle of sin’s snare
But am trapped by desire, cupidity’s cords.
I AM reached to a manger, bared his arm and crossed;
Bound himself in our humanity to redeem and loose the lost.
Lastly, this sonnet is for Christ’s church. If it is helpful, please feel free to copy or reprint in church bulletins, read aloud, or repost. I only ask that an attribution be cited to myself (Randall Edwards) and this blog (backwardmutters.com). Thanks!
Artwork: Moses and the Burning Bush ; Michiel van der BORCH ; illuminated miniature on vellum from Jacob van Maerlant’s « Rhimebible » of Utrecht ; manuscript MMW 10 B 21; Koninklijke Bibliotheek, The Hague