Midweek 2 Advent, 12 December 2018
A Sermon on “O Adonai” by Samuel Zumwalt, STS
“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 an outstretched arm and redeem us.”
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
As Father Peter explained to us last Wednesday, the first three “O Antiphons” are the texts for our Advent midweek homilies this year and next. They are based on scripture but are not from the Bible. They are theological in the same way that hymns and prayers are theological. Our hymn of the day, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” is based upon these “O Antiphons.”
The Catholic Conference of Bishops offers this introduction to the “O Antiphons”: “The Roman Church has been singing the ‘O Antiphons’ since at least the eighth century. They are the antiphons that accompany the Magnificat canticle [Mary’s Song] of Evening Prayer from December 17-23. They are a magnificent theology that uses ancient biblical imagery drawn from the messianic hopes of the Old Testament to proclaim the coming Christ as the fulfillment not only of Old Testament hopes, but present ones as well. Their repeated use of the imperative ‘Come!’ embodies the longing of all for the Divine Messiah” (www.usccb.org).
Father William Saunders writes about the second of these antiphons: “O Adonai: O sacred Lord of ancient Israel, who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush, who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain: come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free. Isaiah had prophesied, But He shall judge the poor with justice, and decide aright for the lands afflicted. He shall strike the ruthless with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked. Justice shall be the band around his waist, and faithfulness a belt upon his hips. (Isaiah 11:4-5); and 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. (Isaiah 33:22)” (www.catholiceducation.org).
Father Saunders concludes: “According to Professor Robert Greenberg of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, the Benedictine monks arranged these antiphons with a definite purpose. If one starts with the last title and takes the first letter of each one – Emmanuel, Rex, Oriens, Clavis, Radix, Adonai, Sapientia – the Latin words ero cras are formed, meaning, Tomorrow, I will come. Therefore, the Lord Jesus, whose coming we have prepared for in Advent and whom we have addressed in these seven Messianic titles, now speaks to us, Tomorrow, I will come. So, the O Antiphons not only bring intensity to our Advent preparation, but bring it to a joyful conclusion” (www.catholiceducation.org).
So, dear ones, the penitential season of Advent invites us to look truthfully at the world around us and the world in us to see that we not only need saving but that only the God who has made Himself known in Jesus Christ can save us. Each loss that wounds us. Each death that depletes us. Indeed, each failure that happily shakes our false confidence in ourselves and others. These are the moments of profound clarity and danger when we may turn to or away from God.
When the Lord Jesus Christ first appeared on the scene as an adult, His fellow Jews, especially the religious leaders, understood immediately what a threat He represented. When you are comfortable with your present place in the world, if not content, then you do not wish for anyone to bring change. And, let us be clear, the Lord Jesus was no “rearranger” of deck chairs on the Titanic. He represented a turning away from oneself and one’s fondest fixations and foundations to a future in which the destruction of one’s favorite people and things was assured. His “follow me” leads always to the cross, to the humbling of self even unto death on a cross, in order to do His Father’s good and gracious will. We are baptized into that story and no other. Listen!
When the people who raise you, the people who love you, the people who employee you, and the people who entertain and inform you must be regarded as food for worms, as we ourselves also are, this does not delight us. When the LORD who called Abram and Sarai by grace, rescued Israel from Egypt by grace, and brought Israel safely through the waters and made covenant at Sinai with them by grace, is proclaimed as also present by asexual conception in a virgin’s womb, that defies all reason and shatters all worldly idols. To say that the universe and our place in it is not random, self-directed, and malleable, according to our thoughts and feelings, is the equivalent of a hydrogen bomb dropped upon all that we think we are able to know as a species.
An old pietist hymn, “Living for Jesus,” says: “O Jesus, Lord and Savior, I gave myself to Thee for Thou in Thy atonement didst give Thyself for me. I own no other Master; my heart shall be Thy Throne. My life I give henceforth to live, O Christ, for Thee alone” (C. Harold Lowden). This must be, of course, understood in light of the Lord Jesus’ utter giving of Himself to His Father for us and our salvation. If there is any giving on our part, it is only by the Holy Spirit’s daily calling, gathering, enlightening, and sanctifying – His keeping us united to Jesus not through our feelings but through the external Word of God and the external Means of Grace.
When we pray, “O Adonai,” O Lord, come, it is the same “Thy Kingdom come” that Jesus has taught us to pray: Bring an end to all that is not right here. Come, bring us safely home to Your new creation where sin, death, and evil have no more sway and where all things are made new.
Make no mistake about it, dear ones. To pray, “Come, Lord Jesus,” means the destruction of all that is familiar and the right reordering of every love, of every yearning, of every treasure here!
In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
©The Rev. Dr. Samuel David Zumwalt, STS
St. Matthew’s Ev. Lutheran Church
Wilmington, North Carolina USA