PREPARING FOR CHRISTMAS
Certainly, Christmas is worth preparing for. Alongside Good Friday and Easter, Christmas is the most important holiday for the faith of the Christian. There is no gospel without the Incarnation. However, it is increasingly hard to appreciate Christmas as a Christian. Remembering Jesus at Christmas requires us to set aside focused time, but most of our focused time is spent gift-buying and event-planning. How can we help our community to remember who and what we are celebrating?
The church has traditionally set aside time to prepare herself for Christmas with the season of Advent. In the month leading up to Christmas, Advent invites us to reimagine what life was like before Christ.
For nearly 1,700 years, the church has creatively engaged in all kinds of rituals to drive home the truth of Christmas in the heart of the faithful, from midnight mass to candlelight services. One of the oldest Christmas liturgies is the O Antiphons.
By the sixth century, the early church had developed a custom of reciting seven prayers together in the seven days before Christmas. These seven prayers call on Jesus using seven titles or metaphors used of Him in the Old Testament. These metaphors reflect our deepest needs and longings. They are:
- O Wisdom
- O Adonai (“Lord”)
- O Root of Jesse
- O Key of David
- O Morning Star
- O King of the Nations
- O Immanuel
Each prayer is just four lines, beginning with the title and ending with a call for Jesus to come. They’re called antiphons because they are read “antiphonally,” or opposite, Mary’s Magnificat. Cool fact: in Latin, the poems form a backward acrostic which translates, “He comes tomorrow.” It’s also where the hymn O Come, O Come Emmanuel comes from.
I love the way Malcolm Guite describes their place in Advent:
“The whole purpose of Advent is to be for a moment fully and consciously Before Christ. In that place of darkness and waiting, we look for his coming and do not presume too much that we already know or have it. Whoever compiled these prayers was able, imaginatively, to write ‘BC’, perhaps saying to themselves: ‘If I hadn’t heard of Christ, and didn’t know the name of Jesus, I would still long for a savior. I would still need someone to come. Who would I need? I would need a gift of Wisdom, I would need a Light, a King, a Root, a Key, a Flame.’ And pouring over the pages of the Old Testament, they would find all these things promised in the coming of Christ. By calling on Christ using each of these seven gifts and prophecies we learn afresh the meaning of a perhaps too familiar name.”*
Each week of this new community Advent guide is centered on one metaphor for Christ from the Old Testament. Scripture passages around each metaphor are provided along with discussion questions so you can lead your community into prayerful reflection over the six weeks leading up to Christmas. We invite you to join us on this six-week journey, taking time to reflect on our need for Jesus this Advent season and anticipate the celebration of His arrival. Maybe by extending Advent, we’ll give our souls the extra space they need to truly prepare for Christmas. Won’t you join us?
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*Quotes from Malcolm Guite in this resource are from his advent devotional, Waiting on the Word: A poem a day for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany, (Canterbury Press 2015).