Merciful Wisdom: Introduction to the O Antiphons + O Wisdom

O Wisdom, O holy Word of God, you govern all creation with your strong yet gentle care. Come and show your people the way to salvation.

A favorite Christmas memory in our house is when my younger sister was about four and we were opening gifts on Christmas Eve. Surrounded by fun cousins and fueled by inconceivable levels of sugar, Ieva was in a state of pure frenzy. As she waited for her turn to open gifts, Ieva began to cheer on her younger cousins as they opened their presents, yelling incomprehensible phrases like, “Blow out the candles!” “Make a shout!” “Cuddle up!”

The anticipation of Christmas Eve is something we all remember. Secular culture tries to keep it alive through nostalgic movies and “Believe” sweatshirts. But society has nothing on the Catholic Church when it comes to building anticipation.

The Church doesn’t see anticipation and excitement as cozy nostalgia for Christmas days gone by. Rather, this anticipation is central to the Christian life. In a world deadened by noise, stress, and mind-numbing pleasures, we need to be shaken awake. Our weary souls need to experience that “thrill of hope” of which the famous carol sings. We need the reminder that there is overwhelming joy ahead.

That joy is just days away. St. Bernard of Clairvaux writes that there are three comings of Jesus. We’re familiar with that first coming in Bethlehem, as well as the second coming at the close of history. But the third, “intermediate coming” of the Lord is a private entrance into the hearts of His followers:

“The Son with the Father will come to you. The great Prophet who will build the new Jerusalem will come, the one who makes all things new. This coming will fulfill what is written: As we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, we shall also bear the likeness of the heavenly man.

Christmas is not a mere remembrance of the past or a fervent gaze towards the future. It is an opportunity for intimate encounter with the incarnate God. Wisdom clothed in weakness softly kisses us at Christmas Mass. His words of truth breathe warm courage into our frozen souls.

Every Christmas, Christ is born again in our hearts. That’s why we spend nearly four weeks in Advent preparing ourselves for this sacred encounter. Even the secular world knows that Christmas is not instantaneous. Our earthly celebrations require planning ahead and the investment of time, talent, and treasure.

But I’m suspecting that you just read that paragraph and sighed because heaven knows, you haven’t prepared well enough for the glorious mystery of the Nativity. Me neither. I spent the first half of Advent far more worried about the apocalyptic nature of finals week than the apokalypsis of Midnight Mass.1

We little humans are so foolish about the idols we worship, the worries on which we fixate, and the way we spend our time. But our Lord is Wisdom Himself. Our weakness and inanity is no surprise to Him. He knows that any initial zeal at the beginning of Advent has at least been tempted to grow lukewarm. So in his “strong yet gentle care,” He offers us this beautiful period from December 17-23 to increase our excitement for Christmas by meditating on seven different titles of Christ. These titles appear during Evening Prayer in the Liturgy of the hours, in the antiphon before and after the Magnificat.2

Through the O Antiphons, we spend seven days marveling and wondering over this Savior we will meet at Christmas. We are swept up by His beauty and our hearts are invited to ache with joy rather than drudgery. But while these ancient prayers are solemn, they are also the Church’s equivalent to Ieva’s giddy anticipation of her forthcoming gift – I have seen the girl literally bounce back and forth between walls on Christmas Eve.

That is the childlike excitement we are all called to as we near the intermediate coming of Christ. Tonight, join me in praising the omnipotent Wisdom who is so wildly in love with His creation that St. Catherine of Siena calls Him the “Divine Madman.” Let’s praise Him for His mercy in crafting the liturgical year so that it guides our wayward hearts back to His side. And let’s stop being foolish grown-ups, but instead cast ourselves into the childlike joy and excitement to which we are called in these last days of Advent.

P.S. Wow, hello, dear reader! Goodness, it has been a minute. Since my last post, I’ve completed my summer as a Totus Tuus Missionary, moved to Texas, finished my first semester at University of Dallas, and returned home to Indianapolis for Christmas break. I guess you could say I’ve been a little busy. While I haven’t had the time to write on here in a while, I have been writing commentary pieces for the University News at my school. You can view those here. I’m grateful for the extra time to write on here during break!

1- Apokalypsis – Greek, “Unveiling”

2- This is a great time to get acquainted with the Liturgy of the Hours! The iBreviary app has the official translation for free. Maybe try out Office of the Readings, Evening Prayer, and Night Prayer for a nice little liturgical charcuterie board.

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