December 17, 2014 - O ANTIPHONS:

GENESIS 49:2,8-10 ; MATTHEW 1:1-17

The sense of expectation that is the atmosphere created by immersion in the Advent liturgy is strikingly heightened during this final week of preparation for the Birth of our Savior.  The series of O antiphones that beginning today to sing in the office of Vespers contributes largely to enhance this sense that some longed for event is eagerly anticipated. We are encouraged to ready ourselves for its speedy arrival by focusing our attention on the mystery of Christ's birth.  Each or these brief antiphons consists of densely worded phrases that disclose some significant feature of the transcendent mystery of the Incarnation.   Day by day each proposes a theme that offers rich insights into the concentrated light of the Divine reality hidden in the human features of the child soon to be born into this world.  But they yield up their hidden riches only to those who mine the lode buried beneath the surface of their words.  For these lyrical phrases are so many invitations for us to delve more deeply into the wondrous reality that they conceal in their inner depths.

The first word of today's antiphon is Wisdom, Sophia in the Greek text.  When St. Bernard referred to it in his Sermons he used the Latin word Sapientia and associated it with the word sapidus that means tasty, for wisdom, he underlines, is not only a practical understanding, it is also a taste for the truth of the reality of truth.  When St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians he was moved to point out to this community of cultivated Greeks who were so avid devotees of philosophy that while "the Greeks seek wisdom, we preach Christ crucified . . . [who is] the power of God and the Wisdom of God."

And so Wisdom, Sapientia, is most fittingly suited to open this series of eight antiphons for these last days of preparation for the birth of our Savior.  Their purpose is to heighten our longing for the speedy arrival of the One whose birth gives promise of enhanced life.  This wisdom unlocks the secret places of the inmost heart where we discover both understanding and the attraction supplied by love that reveals a fullness of life.  Such a capacity for perceiving where the way to life is found is a gift beyond all lesser achievements, however exalted they may be considered by the people of this world of ours.   To come to know Christ, the person who embodies the ultimate meaning embedded in the created universe and in the depths of the human heart is the immediate purpose of our existence in this world of time.

The Gospel we have just heard is the very beginning of St. Matthew's account of the life and teaching of the Son of God as recounted by a man deeply formed in the Hebrew traditions of his Jewish culture.  We moderns can find such a long list of antecedents with unfamiliar names rather tedious.  Each of those listed, however, had a distinctive role to play in the plan of God's Providential preparations for the salvation of our race.  Since each formed a subject for the education and formation of the members of the Holy Family in attending to them we share something of the same history that Jesus, Mary and Joseph were formed by.

This passage too carries in its inner content some portion of that same wisdom who took flesh and was born among us from the womb of Mary.  To pursue the true wisdom that is proposed to us in the Alleluia verse and in the O antiphon at Vespers today then, is to enter more actively into our relation with Jesus, who is for us the personal Wisdom of the all-powerful God, and who gives himself to us in this Eucharistic sacrament.

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger