O Lord

In the liturgy leading up to Christmas Eve, a series of antiphons are added during the last days of Advent. These antiphons are called the Great O Antiphons.  The Great O Antiphon for December 18 is, “O Adonai” or “O Lord.” The antiphon reads, “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.”

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 complained, rejected, and strayed
From HIM WHO IS, deliv’er of the weak.

O Lord, redeem! My arms cannot bear
The doing demands of performance lords,
Nor can avoid the tangle of sin’s snare
Betrayed by desire, cupidity’s cords.

Baring his arm I AM reached to the lost
By taking the wood of manger and cross.

© Randall Edwards 2018.
This poem 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: © Jennifer Edwards 2004. All Rights Reserved.

Wisdom III

December 17 is called Sapientia, for on this day the first of the Great O Antiphons, “Sapientia” is sung in liturgy. We are familiar with the antiphons but in a lesser way as they make up the verses of the Advent carol, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”

Sapientia means “wisdom.” In the antiphon, Wisdom is addressed personally as is often the case in the book of Proverbs. A translation of the antiphon reads, “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.”

This sonnet is a mediation on Sapientia and is titled Wisdom III.

In the silence, before words, songs, or speech,
The Spirit breathes over the water’s night;
The Most High speaks; Wisdom readies to teach,
Drive away darkness, sing: “Let there be light!”

O’er Sinai, I AM in glory thunders;
Wisdom speaks again, makes her precepts known,
Reveals the way, writing worded wonders,
Her purpose and promise on tablets of stone.

David’s Branch shall come, rule with right wisdom;
Prince of Peace, Immanuel, God of Might,
O’erturn the proud, exalt in His Kingdom
The meek and low whom he mends, heals, makes right.

Tonight, Wisdom waits, poised in the world’s wild–
Inhales to speak through the cries of a child.

© Randall Edwards 2018. This poem 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.

O Wisdom III

December 17 marks the beginning of the step towards the Nativity in which the Great O Antiphons are sung in the liturgy. Many know the Antiphons through the advent carol, “O Come, O Come Emanuel.” Each of the antiphons is based upon a messianic promise in the Old Testament which points to the coming of one who will reveal and make right.

The first of the antiphons is for Wisdom who is embodied in the book of Proverbs. The antiphon’s text reads, “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.”

If it’s helpful you may listen to me read the sonnet via the player below.

In the silence, before words, songs, or speech
The Spirit breathes over the water’s night;
The Most High speaks, Wisdom readies to teach,
Drive away darkness, sing, “Let there be light!”

O’er Sinai, I AM in glory thunders;
Wisdom speaks again, makes her precepts known,
Reveals the way, writing worded wonders,
Her purpose and promise on tablets of stone.

David’s Branch shall come, rule with right wisdom.
Prince of Peace, Immanuel, God of Might,
O’erturn the proud, exalt in His Kingdom
The meek and low whom he heals, mends, makes right.

Tonight, Wisdom waits, poised in the world’s wild–
Inhales to speak through the cries of a child.

© Randall Edwards 2018.
This poem 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: Benedictine monastery of Podlažice [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

O Key of David (O Clavis)

The Great O Antiphon for December 20th is O Key of David which reads,

O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel;
you open and no one can shut;
you shut and no one can open:
Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house,
those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

The Old Testament passage from which the name is taken is found in Isaiah 22:20-25 in which the Lord through Isaiah says that he will remove Shebna who is Steward of the Palace of King Hezekiah and replace him with Eliakim. Isaiah states,

“In that day I will call my servant Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, and I will clothe him with your robe, and will bind your sash on him, and will commit your authority to his hand. And he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David. He shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open. And I will fasten him like a peg in a secure place, and he will become a throne of honor to his father’s house. And they will hang on him the whole honor of his father’s house, the offspring and issue, every small vessel, from the cups to all the flagons. In that day, declares the Lord of hosts, the peg that was fastened in a secure place will give way, and it will be cut down and fall, and the load that was on it will be cut off, for the Lord has spoken.”

The passage from Isaiah is pregnant with significance. The steward who is both the Lord’s servant, who will be a throne of honor, upon whom will hang the honor of his father’s house will be fasted and hang and all that was strong will give way and be cut off.

The image of the King’s keys is taken up again in Matthew’s gospel (Matt 16:19) when Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ. Here Jesus confers upon the church the authority to proclaim salvation and the forgiveness of sins in his name.

Later, in Revelation. 3:7 Jesus sends word to the church in Philadelphia by the angel who ascribes to Jesus the following title,  “the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens”.

Malcolm Guite through his own writing and speaking about the Antiphons first inspired me and continues to encourage me to look more closely at the resource of the Great O Antiphons. At the end of this talk he talks about the linguistic range of the antiphon’s original Latin. Of particular interest to me is his explanation of the Latin educ and sedentem which are translated “lead” and “dwell” respectively. Good, good stuff.

Here is my own attempt in sonnet form to step into the significance of the One who holds the keys and is himself, the Key of David.

If it is helpful, you may listen to me read the sonnet via the player here.

O Key of David, set my bound will free:
Unlock every barred way;
Open the prison in the heart of me;
Lead me into the light of day.
Come to me as the rising sun;
Unclasp with liberating light;
Mount your chariot your courses run
And bring me out of darkest night.
Resentment rusted, my bound heart–
Unable to release the catch.
Your love opens with a locksmith’s art
As tumbled tears let go the latch.
And bid you enter my frozen soul
Filling with freedom, making me whole.

© Randy Edwards 2015
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: from The Queen Mary Apocalypse, England (London or East Anglia), 1st quarter of the 14th century, Royal 19 B. xv, f. 38v

O Root of Jesse (O Radix)

The Great O Antiphon for December 19th is O Root of Jesse,

“O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples;

before you kings will shut their mouths,
to you the nations will make their prayer:
Come and deliver us, and delay no longer.”

This antiphon is the basis for the verse in “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” which reads,

“O come, thou Rod of Jesse, free

Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell thy people save,
And give them victory o’er the grave.”

Though Jeremiah and Zechariah make reference to the Branch, the longer passage in which we find a description of the Branch is Isaiah 11:1-10,

“There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.

2 And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
3 And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear,
4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
5 Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins.
6 The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them.
7 The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den.
9 They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
10 In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.” (ESV)

The character of the King and his kingdom, is marked by a remarkable power and peace. But imbedded in the passage is a surprising hope: the Branch springs from a stump. In this sonnet I begin with that image. We love growing things. We understand seeds and planting and nurturing, but what of death? What healthy tree ever grew from a stump, and what glory was ever wrested from a cross?

If it is helpful, you may listen as I read the sonnet via the player below.

There is nothing so hopeless as a tree’s
Stump whose root has been lopped of green
Cut down, left lifeless, without its leaves
To lie in lament, to sorrow only cling.
O Root of Jesse, the stump from which
Buds our righteousness, joy, and peace
Who makes the scorned, the cut off rich,
Who were despised, hated, counted least.
O how may hope from this lifeless wood,
This cursed, crossed tree raised above,
Hanging with death, certainly no good
Could spring in new life, sing wondrous love.
Come quickly Root of Jesse, deliver and bring
The peace which the nations long and sing.

artwork: The Jesse Tree in the Lambeth Psalter, unknown English miniaturist, c.1140s

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!