An Essay on the O Antiphons
by Thomas Turner,
O Antiphons: Prayers for the Advent Season
I love baking bread.
I love the messy hands, the flour on your shirt, the kneading and scraping and careful watching so that you get the crust and the crumb just perfect. I have this great recipe that makes bread that is warm and crackly goodness. It gets rave reviews. Yet it takes a lot of time. Over 24 hours!
For times when we just need bread and have not prepared, we have a great quick bread recipe we found on Pinterest that only takes a few hours. That recipe makes some good bread. But to get great bread, fantastic bread―the kind that makes you feel like you really could live on bread and water alone―you need a time of preparation to make that kind of bread.
We all know what Christmas should be like. I am certain all of us have the Christmas season and its routines so ingrained in us that we can pull off a nice Christmas party or a rendition of the Christmas story without stressing out too much. But to have a great Christmas, one that is profound and worshipful, we need to prepare. Like great bread, the difference between having a good Christmas and a meaningful Christmas is going to be how we prepare.
The “O Antiphons” are one way that Christians for over 1500 years have been preparing their hearts, souls, minds and bodies to celebrate the coming of Christ at the first Advent, Christmas. Though the name “O Antiphons” sounds fancy, it is really quite plain. “Antiphons” are the types of songs sung by Christians in worship and in monasteries for over a millennium. They are similar to what we now call Gregorian chant. And the “O” part means that this collection of songs that leads up to Christmas all start with O. Really, O Antiphons is just a fancy way of saying “Worship Songs that start with O.”
No matter how fancy or ordinary they are, the important thing is that these prayerful songs help us to prepare ourselves, our families and our faith communities to feel the full weight of the incarnation. That is why these prayerful songs describe for us the amazing character of our incarnate God, found in Jesus Christ. A baby, born of a virgin, fully God and fully human in form, who is Wisdom in the flesh, our Lord, the Savior promised from David’s line, our Eternal Light, the King who unites all peoples and our Emmanuel, the God-who-is-with-us.
It is in pondering these beliefs and mysteries that we encounter the reality of what Jesus
Christ has done for the world, what Christ is doing in the world right now, and will continue to do through the Kingdom until the Second Advent, the glorious return of God to dwell with humankind in the new heavens and new earth forever.
The tricky part is that we cannot ponder if we do not slow down. The O Antiphons help us slow down because they help us to savor—one theme at a time—the mysteries of Christ.
December is one of the busiest years of the month for many of us. There is the bustle of buying presents and the plethora of parties and the many rehearsals for pageants at church. With Christmas time seeming like such a burden, it seems counterintuitive to add something like the praying the O Antiphons to our schedules, like we’re just putting another event on the calendar or another task on a list.
In the midst of the hustle and bustle we need to slow down and realize that Jesus Christ came to this earth, is coming to the earth through his Kingdom and will come again in the Second Advent, to unite heaven and earth under his glorious reign. We need to take some time to be still and know that the Lord of Lords and Prince of Peace came in the flesh to dwell among us. We need to prepare my body and soul to worshipfully meet the King of Kings on Christmas day. The O Antiphons can help us prepare in such a way that participating in Christmas at church and with family and friends is a spiritual act of worship.
The Advent and Christmas seasons are so rich in meaning: the first and second coming of Jesus, the Incarnation, the Kingdom, Mary’s song about what the Messiah, who is in her womb, will do when he is birthed into the world. All of this, and yet by the time we get to Christmas day we are can be so exhausted we just want to eat a nice dinner, gorge on some cookies and take a nap. Where’s the worship in that?
Prayerfully and with great joy, let us prepare to encounter the mystery of the Incarnation by slowing down, reflecting on the mysteries of Christ’s coming to this earth, and yearning for his entering into this world in us and through us.
Be Sure to download a FREE Copy of Thomas Turner’s ebook O Antiphons from NoiseTrade!