18 December 2010

Christmas Begins with an O!

Well, not really, but one could say that the Christmas season begins with an O. Seven of them, in fact. We know very little about these ancient antiphons which serve as a liturgical harbinger of the nativity of Our Lord. The little we do know, however, is as charming as it is fascinating: ledger books of ancient monasteries show large expenditures of money for items such as eggs, flour and other provisions beginning on the 17th of December. One can only imagine the feasting that accompanied these solemn days of preparation -- and celebration!

Today we sing the second of these Great "O" Antiphons:

O Adonai
O Lord, and Leader of the house of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the red fire of flame and gave him the law on Sinai: Come and redeem us with outstretched arm.

This antiphon takes the believer to the book of Exodus where God revealed Himself to Moses. The old covenant is ratified and the exchange between God and man is filled with imagery of fire and light. The fire which the Israelites saw atop the mountain was but a suggestion of the light that was to come in Christ. The second part of the antiphon, "come and redeem us with outstretched arm," is an echo of Yahweh's promise to Moses that "I will free you from the burdens which the Egyptians lay on you. I will release you from slavery to them, and with my arm outstretched and my strokes of power, I will deliver you" (Ex 6:6). The promise made to the people of Israel is seen in its fullness when it is considered in the light of Christ's redemptive death. As the people of Israel awaited freedom from their captors, so the Church awaits the birth of the Messiah.

The promise to be freed from one's captor may not seem relevant to most of us today. The temptations to become enslaved can be subtle. Sometimes we are tempted to make a "good thing" the center of our lives: be it our work, our ministry, our studies, a particular project, etc. It may seem impossible to be "tempted" by something good. When we replace Christ as the central focus of our life, however, we take a great risk of becoming a prisoner. This is not to suggest that we should not apply ourselves diligently to our work, our responsibilities, our studies -- and even our play. Indeed, we should! Whether we are religious men and women, parents with children, single Christians, etc., Christ is the end of all we do. He blesses all that we do in his name and for his glory -- it matters little whether it is sweeping a floor, changing a diaper or working at a desk. We are freed from becoming prisoners of our work, our responsibilities or our hobbies when we keep Christ at the center of all we do. We have only to let Him in when he comes, for he comes with arms outstretched.

"Trifling temptations . . . flit around one like flies or gnats, now settling on one's nose -- later stinging one's cheek -- it is wholly impossible altogether to free one's self from their importunity; the best resistance one can make is not to be fretted by them. All these things may worry one, but they cannot really harm us, so long as our wills are firmly resolved to serve God."
St. Francis de Sales

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