Day 11: Wednesday

Wednesday: Day 11

 

Today is the last day we say the beautiful O Antiphons of Advent. It is especially in the final week of Advent that our attention is fixed on the messianic promises proclaimed by the ancient prophets of Israel. They add a mood of eager expectation to the liturgy that builds throughout these seven days and climaxes at Christmas. The O Antiphons have been described as “a unique work of art and a special ornament of the pre-Christmas liturgy, filled with the Spirit of the Word of God”. They “create a poetry that fills the liturgy with its splendor”, and their composer shows “a magnificent command of the Bible’s wealth of motifs”. The antiphons are, in fact, a collage of Old Testament types of Christ. Jesus is invoked by various titles, mainly taken from the prophet Isaiah. The sequence progresses historically, from the beginning, before creation, to the very gates of Bethlehem.

 

In their structure, each of the seven antiphons follows the same pattern, resembling a traditional liturgical prayer. Each O Antiphon begins with an invocation of the expected Messiah, followed by praise of him under one of his particular titles. Each ends with a petition for God’s people, relevant to the title by which he is addressed, and the cry for him to “Come”.  In the liturgy, they are often employed as a window through which to view the praying of the  Magnificat.  Consider how today’s antiphon might be a window through which you look through  Zachariah’s prayer.

 

The O Antiphon for December 23 is:

 

O Emmanuel, our King and Lawgiver, the Expected of the nations and their Savior. Come and save us, O Lord our God.

Isaiah 7:14: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel”.

 

Isaiah 33:22: “Indeed the Lord will be there with us, majestic. Yes, the Lord our judge, the Lord our lawgiver, the Lord our king, he it is who will save us”.

 

With this last antiphon our expectation finds joy now in the certainty of fulfillment. We call Jesus by one of the most personal and intimate of his titles, Emmanuel, God-with-us. We recall that in his birth from the Virgin Mary God takes on our very flesh and human nature: God coming nearer to us than we could have ever imagined! Yet he is also to be exalted above us as our king, the lawgiver and judge, the one whom we honor and obey. And he is our savior, long-expected by all creation. The final cry rises from us urgent in our need for daily salvation and forgiveness of our sins, and confident that our God will not withhold himself from us.

 

Vision_of_Zacharias_Tissot_1894
Vision of Zacharias, James Tissot (1894)

Reflect (Pray), part II.

 

Read the Benedictus (Luke 1:68-79) again, this time allowing God to speak in the silence following. What prayer or thanksgiving arises?

 

As we have explored Zachariah’s song, or canticle, The Benedictus, we have highlighted two themes. The first is that of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, which is the context for what follows. The second theme, a splendid one: is the act of benediction, for which Zachariah’s canticle is named. Today, we will consider the third theme from the Benedictus, the forgiveness of sins. As we noted in today’s Advent O Antiphon, we await the daily salvation and forgiveness of sins that Emmanuel, God with us, brings. What does it mean to enjoy daily salvation, to be saved for the here and now? So often we think of salvation in terms of eternity and neglect the grace that transforms our present.

 

The expression ‘forgiveness of sins’ is a favorite of Luke’s; 8 of 11 NT occurrences are found in Luke-Acts. The most important such occurrence for understanding its use here is Luke 3:3: John preached ‘a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins’. The reference to forgiveness of sins in the Benedictus is suggested in Zachariah’s description of his son John’s mission. John will be called “the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways; to give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins” (Luke 1:76-77).

 

John the Baptist’s mission as a preparer of the way fits the portrait of the other gospel writers, but Luke is the clearest in associating the forerunner role with the content of John’s message: salvation, the forgiveness of sins, and baptism of repentance (Luke 3:3; 24:47; Acts 10:37). In Luke’s view, the emphasis on forgiveness is also a major part of Jesus’ ministry (Luke 4:18). In addition, Jesus’ ministry and the apostolic preaching emphasize repentance (Luke 24:47 [the message of Luke’s Great Commission]; Acts 5:31; 13:38; 17:30; 20:21).

 

The themes of repentance and forgiveness go hand in hand in Luke’s Gospel and are emphasized by John, by Jesus and by Peter. Luke says of John, “And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” (3:3). The theological pair of repentance and forgiveness characterizing Jesus’ ministry on earth also constitutes the thrust his disciples’ mission after He is ascended into heaven. Jesus tells his disciples in Luke 24:47 that “repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” We see in Acts 2:38 that the disciples obey this command: “Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.”

 

Luke’s gospel also emphasizes that Christ’s ability to forgive sins identifies him as God, as displayed in the following passages in Luke 5 and 7: And when he saw their faith, he said unto him, Man, thy sins are forgiven thee. And the scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, Who is this which speaketh blasphemies? Who can forgive sins, but God alone? But when Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answering said unto them, What reason ye in your hearts? Whether is easier, to say, thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Rise up and walk? But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power upon earth to forgive sins, (he said unto the sick of the palsy,) I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy couch, and go into thine house. (Luke 5:20-24). Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little. And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven. And they that sat at meat with him began to say within themselves, Who is this that forgiveth sins also? And he said to the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace (Luke 7:47-50).

 

  • As you imagine yourself singing Zachariah’s song after his long months of silence, what does your own time of silence indicate about your need for forgiveness? From what attachments of disorders in your life might God be trying to free you? Note this in your journal.
  • Consider Zacharias’ “breaking out in song” after the long time of silence. What song comes to mind that you would like to sing to Jesus?
  • Consider the two themes of forgiveness of sins and the baptism of repentance. Why is repenting of sins a baptism? How does it invite a new life of “God with you”?  What aspect of this new life is God showing you through this study? Note this in your journal.
  • As with Mary’s Magnificat, reflect on how God’s gift of the forgiveness of sins, “the ‘nearness and immediacy of Jesus’ salvific presence” as proclaimed by the angels, comes fully to you? In what way is God suggesting that your life today, in the present, be transformed by this immediate gift? Think about the word of phrase that stood out to you in the passage. How is this related to this forgiveness of sins?

Prayer:

Thank God for his tremendous gift of the forgiveness of sin. Ask him to make known to you how this saving presence might transform your present and to release you from the bondage of your own sins. Like Zacharias, let the silence of Advent be a gift and allow your spirit to rejoice in God with you.
Listen to this beautiful singing of the Benedictus and enjoy the great art it has inspired.
https://youtu.be/j_FS67Lc8HQ?list=RDj_FS67Lc8HQ