Tonight begins the “O Antiphons.” That is, the verses that eventually became the hymn “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” Prior to this hymn, they were an “antiphon” (a verse that comes before and after a Biblical song or psalm. In the case of the “O Antiphons,” they accompanied the singing of the Magnificat at Vespers starting December 17. I’ve written about them before (you can read here). This year, I’d like to reflect briefly on each antiphon as a prayer (which they are).
The language of this kind of prayer may seem very rigid and highly structured compared to the “Father God, I juswanna” prayers that are common in America. These prayers begin with a statement of who Christ is in rich Biblical language and then move to a petition, that is to ask for something. Note the pattern, prayer starts with God’s Word and then responds back asking based on the very thing God’s Word promises.
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.
Jesus declared “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14). In doing so he also identified Himself as Wisdom which is personified in Proverbs 9. St. Paul talks about such Wisdom: “The foolishness of God is wiser than men, the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Cor. 1:25). But note what comes before: “Jews demand signs, Gentiles seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:22-23). You see it is the preaching of Christ crucified that is Wisdom.
Prudence is known as the “Father of the Virtues.” Now it would be easy to think of this in terms of crass or worldly wisdom. That which seeks to understand, to figure things out, to discern right from wrong, etc. and by doing so, to find comfort in that. The truth is this is the kind of wisdom, we think, can be mastered. And yet this is that which is not even worthy of being called foolishness when it comes to God. So what is this Wisdom, this prudence? Again, it is Christ. You can master an idea or a principle, but you cannot master a man, even less so God incarnate as a man, and even less so God incarnate dead on a cross.
So this prayer is less about trying to get a grip on our life, and more dying to ourselves and being raised in Christ. It is the life of repentance. The fear of the Lord is the Beginning of Wisdom (Psalm 110:10, Proverbs 1:7)… such fear orders our lives, brings us to our knees, and behold, the Lord is gracious and not only provides for our needs in giving us this day our daily bread, but gives us that which leads to eternal life: His forgiveness, His holiness, His Spirit which continues to teach us of Christ Jesus, the Wisdom from on high.