Wednesday, December 23, 2020

December 23 - Emmanuel, God With Us - We're Still Waiting

 We've come to the end of the Great O Antiphons, and the Medieval countdown to Christmas.  It means even more to me now that I've learned how all of December, up until Christmas Eve, was considered a time of fasting and repenting, no meat, eggs or dairy allowed for the whole 3 1/2 weeks leading up to Christmas.  No wonder they celebrated the holiday for Twelve Days, when it finally came!

In some ways, it's like the old observance of Lent used to be.  A time of waiting, hoping, fasting and practicing patience.  I know I definitely need more practice with patience!  It is also a reminder of our anticipation, as we await the coming of Christ, when He was born as a human being here on this very earth.  In my church, they also remind us to anticipate His Second Coming as King of Kings, and Lord of Lords. 

The antiphon for this day reads:

O Emmanuel, our king and our Lord,
The anointed of the nations and their Savior;
    Come and save us, O Lord our God.

Even though this is the last of the seven ancient verses set to music, it has become the first verse of our hymn,  O Come, O Come Emmanuel:

O come, O come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
    Rejoice, rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

I like this arrangement, for it's like a set of bookends.  The beginning of the hymn reminds us that Jesus, called Emmanuel (which in Hebrew means 'God with us') is come to be our Savior from darkness and loneliness.  That seems especially meaningful in this year of crises and pandemic.  And the hymn ends with the words, "And be Thyself our King of Peace."

Wishing you all the peace that passes understanding.
Amen. Come Lord Jesus.


Tuesday, December 22, 2020

O Come Desire of Nations

 December 22 marks the first full day of winter here, and we got snow--the most we've had since early October.  Strange year!  The election, Covid--so much suffering, strife, anger, and hurt.  No one seems to trust anyone.  We need the King of Kings more than ever before.  Here is the antiphon for today:

O King of the nations, the ruler they long for,
the cornerstone uniting all people:
    Come and save us ALL, whom You formed out of clay.

And the verse:

O come, Desire of nations, bind in one the hearts of all mankind.
Bid thou our sad divisions cease,
And be thyself our King of Peace:
    Rejoice, rejoice!  Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

Monday, December 21, 2020

O Come, O Light of Heaven!

 December 21st is shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, especially in Europe, where many of the Medieval Church customs were born.  I find it most significant that the Pre-Christmas antiphon for this date refers to the coming of Christ as the dawning of light, the Dayspring.

People in the Middle Ages, in the darkest time of year, were longing for the light and hope of spring as much as we often do here in the northern reaches of North America.  Here is the 12th century antiphon, translated from Latin into English:

O Dayspring, splendor of light ever-lasting:
     Come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.

Here is the verse of the hymn adapted from these ancient antiphons, written by James M. Neale in the 1800s:

O Come, Thou Dayspring from on high,
And cheer us by Thy drawing nigh:
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death's dark shadows put to flight.
    Rejoice, rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

O Key of David - December 20

 The Great O Antiphons originated in the 12th century, and have evolved into our beloved Christmas carol, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.   There is one for each of the seven days preceding Christmas Eve.  

The one for today (which has been translated from the original Latin) goes like this:

O Key of David and scepter of the house of Israel,
You open and no one can close,
You close and no one can open:
    Come and rescue the prisoners who are in darkness and the shadow of death.

What we could not ever accomplish for ourselves--the task of being truly good and sinless--Christ did for us.  Beginning when he came to earth as a tiny helpless baby, born in a stable of a poor young mother of God's own choosing.

And here's the more "modern" rendering in the hymn:

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
    Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

O Come Thou Branch of Jesse's Tree

 "Who was Jesse?" you may ask.  He was a member of the house of Judah in the nation of Israel.  He had several sons, and the youngest--David--was chosen by God to be King of all Israel.  Some thousand years later, Jesus was born of Mary, one of David descendants.  Joseph, Jesus's earthly father, was also a descendant of David. 

Here is the Medieval antiphon written about him and used for December 19:

O Root of Jesse, standing as an ensign before the peoples,
Before whom all kings are mute, to whom the nations will do homage:
 Come quickly to deliver us.

And the verse by John Mason Neale:

O come, thou Branch of Jesse's tree,
Free them from Satan's tyranny
That trust thy mighty power to save,
And give them victory o'er the grave:
 Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

Friday, December 18, 2020

O Come, Thou Lord of Might

 Here's the Great "O" antiphon for December 18.  (In case you don't know what an antiphon is, see my December 17 post.)

O Adonai and ruler of the house of Israel, 
who appeared to Moses in the burning bush 
and gave him the law on Sinai,
 Come with outstretched arm and redeem us.

The verse of my favorite hymn which is based on this:

O come, O come, Thou Lord of might,
Who to thy tribes on Sinai's height
In ancient times didst give the law
In cloud and majesty and awe.
  Rejoice, rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel. 

Thursday, December 17, 2020

The Great O's: Number One

 Okay, I'm going to try to take a break from the crazy politics.  One week from today is Christmas Eve.  In the Medieval Church, the evening service, called Vespers, was held nightly.  For the week before Christmas there were special antiphons written for each of these 7 days leading up to the celebration of Christ's birth.

Antiphons, short verses, often from the Bible and set to music, are still used in many traditional church liturgies.  In the Medieval Church, they were all in Latin.  With the Protestant Reformation, churches began shifting to the native languages of their people, whether German, English, etc.

These "Great O's" are so named because each starts with the word  "O".  In the early 1400s a haunting tune was in use with them in France, which has been carried on today.  Our English text translation was done by John Mason Neale in the 1800s, adding the refrain, "Rejoice, rejoice...".   The result is one of my favorite Christmas songs, "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel".

For December 17, here is the antiphon:

 O Wisdom proceeding from the mouth of the Most High,
pervading and permeating all creation,
mightily ordering all things:
Come and teach us the way of prudence.

And here is the verse of the hymn:

O Come, Thou Wisdom from on high, who orders all things mightily;
To us the path of knowledge show, and teach us in her ways to go.
Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

When Will This Insanity End?

I have a Christian friend who says he's stopped going to church because so many people there have bought into the Far Right conspiracy theories that they won't listen to reason any more.  This makes me sad and angry.  I can certainly relate because there are people like that at my church, too.  Most of the time I've managed to avoid them.  It's gotten to the point that's all I can do.

Four years ago, the Democrats were crying foul when Trump defeated Clinton, especially since Clinton won the popular vote.  Now the Republicans are doing the same and worse, despite the fact that Biden won the popular vote and the electoral vote.  At one time Trump said he would concede if the Electoral College vote was against him,  But like all the other shifts in what he says, he's gone back on that statement, too.  How can people trust someone like that, who changes with the wind of his own opinion?

I've heard many Republicans who say, "The courts will decide."  Well, the courts have decided, but not in their favor.  Not what they wanted to hear, and so they vow to fight on, continuing to divide our country.

In my mind, sending death threats to election official and electors who are just doing their job is unconscionable.  How can people justify this?  It appears the Far Right has pushed the party do far Right that they believe, "Might makes Right."  They've been taking lessons from Machiavelli--or Hitler and Stalin.

People talk about Russian plots to overthrow us and set up a police state.  Actually, the first hints of this showed up in Portland, Oregon last summer, when unmarked Federal Agents began arresting people indescriminatly on no grounds.

I don't argue that Russia (and perhaps China) would like to see our democracy fall.  And by inciting so much division and fear in our country, a lot of politicians are playing right into their hands.  I see evidence of this standing on the street corners right here in remote Kalispell, Montana--flags waving for the candidate who soundly lost, using four-letter words I refuse to even print, insinuations of Chinese and Russian influences in the Democratic Party.  How ironic that four years ago it was the Democrats saying that the Russians conspired to get Trump elected!   It's becoming clearer all the time that they are succeeding in dividing and conquering us.

A few lonely voices, including the President-elect, are begging us to unite and stand together, even if we don't agree on everything.  But somewhere along the way, certain news agencies and politicians on both sides have convinced us that we must despise the people who disagree with us.  Unfortunately, some of those people are even waving the Bible in our faces.  Have they really taken to heart what it says?  I see too many who Talk the Talk but aren't Walking the Walk.

Once in a while, one of the Republican supporters or appointees sees the light and takes a stand for the truth.  Most recent example is Attorney General Barr.  One after another, these former "Yes men" have heard the word, "You're Fired!"  We've seen it repeatedly for the past four years.  Isn't that enough?

I know I'll lose friends over this, but I've decided it's time to stand up with these few brave, persecuted people.   I pray that we won't forget what Christ told his followers, "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."   

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Loving Your Neighbor As Yourself

 Nearly all the world's religions have some basic tenet of caring for our neighbors.  I ran across a quote this morning from Eugene Peterson, a fellow Montanan and Christian who died recently.  He said, "Freedom is a delicate and subtle gift, easily perverted and often squandered."

How often recently have we witnessed people of all persuasions using "freedom" as an excuse to foster hatred, rioting, looting, prejudice, or even just refusing to wear a mask?  None of these things, whether done by the Right or the Left, show "Love" to our neighbors.

Who is my neighbor?  You may ask, the very way someone asked Jesus this one day.  He told a story many of us know of The Good Samaritan.  What most have forgotten is that to the Jews who were his audience the Samaritans were the Enemy with a capital E.  To tell them this was their neighbor was a challenge to their whole belief system.

I often see bumper stickers that say, "Freedom Isn't Free."  And I absolutely agree.  Freedom is actually beyond price.  It cost Jesus his life.  But he's also the one who said, "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free."  Are we remembering that one of the prices of freedom is responsibility?