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O God with Us, Come

Poetic meditations by Dr. Jill Peláez Baumgaertner, the Dean of Humanities and Theological Studies, meld with the prayers and a hymn of the Church long past, to enrich personal, family, and congregational worship during today’s season of Advent.


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At Christmastime we sing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” in joyful expectation of the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. This beloved hymn is the translation by John Mason Neale (1818-1866) of a 12th-century Latin hymn based on the “Great O Antiphons,” seven brief prayers of the ancient church.

The precise origin of the O Antiphons is unknown, but their antiphonal, or responsive, nature has given them a place in liturgical church settings for centuries, particularly in the Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Lutheran traditions. The seven “Great O Antiphons” are intended for use during the final seven days of Advent (December 18-24). Each prayer addresses Christ the Messiah with a different Old Testament name that shows various facets of his Person and work: O Wisdom, O Adonai, O Root of Jesse, O Key of David, O Dayspring, O King of the Nations, O Emmanuel. The sequence of the Antiphons progresses from Creation, through messianic prophecies, to the birth of Christ.

Our hope is that these words would add to your worship and sense of wonder during the last seven days of Advent, as you celebrate the Incarnation of Christ the Lord and joyously anticipate his Second Coming.

The First 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.

The Meditation

Prudence is not a word 
we love. It inhibits our choice. 
We prefer the allure of tinsel 
and artifice, the relentless 
tug toward the flesh 
of a paltry beauty.

And we inhabit a planet 
of uncertainty. 
Who is the friend 
and where the enemy, 
as we are pulled 
this way and that? 
We extend our hand 
or should we fight 

Now Wisdom speaks, 
parsing, separating, 
reordering, steering us 
from quicksand’s brink, 
the enfleshed Word 
steady on firm terrain. 
We balance there 
between yes and no.

We await him. 
Come, Lord Jesus.

The Second Antiphon

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.

The Meditation

The Law sculpts our sin 
in bas relief. We trace 
its outline, rehearse 
its shape, feel once again 
its heft.
We cannot rest easy 
watching Moses face 
the heat of the bush, 
removing his shoes 
on hallowed ground.
Our shoes remain. 
We are rooted here 
but desperate to weave 
in and out for old 
We crave release, 
the spring of warmed 
muscles, Adonai’s 
arm outstretched. 

We await him. 
Come, Lord Jesus.

The Third Antiphon

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.

The Meditation

Here in the dust 
we are astonished 
by the root’s tenacity, 
the only life in a ruined 
and dead land. 
It stirs underground, 
pushes through rock, 
ferns curled, 
leaves folded, 
buds tightly wound, 
the bloom finally 
loosening and opening 
in a place of broken 
images and dry breath.

We await him. 
Come, Lord Jesus.

The Fourth Antiphon

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.

The Meditation

Shackled in the obscurity 
of our prison, locked in, 
solipsistic, we see only 
our own sin, 
unable to escape 
our insufficiencies.
But the promise of release 
has been there all along. 
We pluck the key 
from our bosom 
and the chains release, 
the prison door opens. 
There in our baptism 
is our freedom.
All we have ever needed 
to do is remember it.

We await him. 
Come, Lord Jesus.

The Fifth Antiphon

O DAYSPRING, splendor of 
light everlasting: come and 
enlighten those who sit in darkness 
and in the shadow of death.

The Meditation

In December already at 4:00
in the afternoon, 
shadows overtake us 
and only the treetops catch the last 
slant of sunlight. Then the darkness 
deepens beyond all imagining, 
this darkness of spirit which admits 
no glimmer or ray.

Here in the sanctuary the Advent 
lit one by one, week by week, 
first pinpricks then lengthening 
gather the light and focus it.

The days begin to lengthen 
and now, finally, is the time for new 
the faint dawn, the first, tiny signs. 
Now is the time for a paling sky, 
pink at the tree line.

We await him. 
Come, Lord Jesus.

The Sixth Antiphon

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.

The Meditation

The Word that shaped creation
spun the dust, gathered the seas, 
carved the clay, sparked the life.

This Word more than the un-Worded 
words of careless speech.  This Word 
the gospel, the cornerstone, the king 
who shatters the darkness, 
who gives sight, who becomes the bright 
fleshprint of incarnation.
This is the remote become immediate, 
the abstract made concrete, the dream 
become certain. This is the birth-marked 
Word that created our senses 
and opened them. He breathes 
on us and we live.

We await him. 
Come, Lord Jesus.

The Seventh Antiphon

O EMMANUEL, our king and 
our lawgiver, the anointed of the 
nations and their Savior: come and 
save us, O Lord our God.

The Meditation

Immanuel, God with us, 
knows what our flesh knows: 
the itchiness of wool against skin, 
the lingering taste of wine, 
the glossiness of leaves after rain, 
the press of earth clods underfoot, 
the grit of sawdust on hands.

This is the mystery: 
King and carpenter’s son, 
Shepherd and Lamb, 
God of Jacob and son of David. 
With outstretched arms 
he redeems us, the purple 
of royalty and passion 
the world’s darkness.
We await him. 
Come, Lord Jesus.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

1. O come, thou Wisdom from on high,

who ord’rest all things mightily;

to us the path of knowledge show,

and teach us in her ways to go.

Refrain. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!

2. 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. Refrain.

3. O come, thou Branch of Jesse’s tree,

free them from Satan’s tyranny

that trust thy mighty pow’r to save,

and bring them vict’ry o’er the grave. Refrain.

4. O come, thou Key of David, come,

and open wide our heav’nly home;

make safe the way that leads on high,

and close the path to misery. Refrain.

5. 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. Refrain.

6. 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. Refrain.

7. O come, O come, Emmanuel,

and ransom captive Israel,

that mourns in lonely exile here

until the Son of God appear. Refrain.

Many thanks to Augsburg Fortress for granting permission to print excerpts from The Great O Antiphons: A Service for Advent, by Carl Schalk and Jill Peláez Baumgaertner (Augsburg Fortress, 2013). With seven motets composed for SATB voices by Carl Schalk, the book brings together the “Great O Antiphons,” choral presentations, poetic meditations, and congregational singing for the church and its people during the Christmas season.

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