The ‘O’Antiphons


We are entering today the Great Seven Days before Christmas – a bit like Holy Week in Lent.  We call them the days of the ‘O’Antiphons:

O Wisdom – 17th December
O Adoni – 18th December
O Stock of Jesse –  19th December
O Key of David  –  20th December
O Rising Sun – 21st December
O King of Peoples –  22nd December
O Emmanuel  – 23rd December

In each of the seven days the Gospel acclamation is an antiphon beginning with the word ‘O’ showing we are calling someone.  Each day we are calling out to the child in Mary’s womb, using a title usually taken from the Old Testament looking forward to the coming of the Messiah.   Occasionally it is from the Apocalypse, Revelation, which looks forward to the Second Coming of Christ.  When we look at or hear the Big ‘O’ we can think of Mary who is big and round in the last stages of her pregnancy – bring Christ into our world. The O also represents the circle of our lives – we come from God and we return to God.  We can also think of God coming to us and we going to God.


O Wisdom

Today we call on Jesus as the Wisdom of God.

‘O Wisdom, you come forth from the mouth of the Most High’ – that is who He is.

‘You fill the Universe and hold all things together in a strong but gentle manner’- that is what He does

‘O come to teach us the Way of Truth’ –  that is what we want for Christmas.  Wisdom is the gift that King Solomon asked for.  It is what we need so that we can live our lives as God wants us to. The whole world is held together by the wisdom of God – things get upset because, unlike Solomon, we do not ask for it or we do not listen . And so we pray today to the child in Mary’s womb:   Come and teach us the way of  Truth.  Wisdom 9:1-4   Colossians 1:9-11


O Adonai 

Today’s O Antiphon is O Adonai, lawgiver and leader of the house of Israel.

You appeared to Moses in the burning bush and you gave him the law on Sinai. Come and save us with your mighty power The Hebrew word ‘Adonai’ means ‘Lord’.   This word was used by the Jews out of respect to avoid using the holy name of God, Yahweh. Jesus who is coming to us is the Lord – the God who revealed himself to Moses in the burning bush – and appointed him to lead the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt and receive the ten commandments of God. Jesus comes to save us from our slavery to sin – from all that keeps us from God.   The law he brings is a law of justice for all of creation, and especially for those who are poor and oppressed.    It is the law of Love. We honour Jesus who is coming as our Lord and lawgiver. We ask him to save us to free us from all that breaks our relationship with God,  and with other people and with the universe.

O Adonai – leader of the house of Israel. You appeared to Moses in the burning bush and gave him the law on Sinai.  Come and save us with your mighty power.  Exodus 3:1-6   19:16-20:21. Acts 2:36   Philippians 2:9-11   Luke 4:18


O Stock of Jesse 

O Stock of Jesse,  You stand as a sign for all the nations, kings fall silent before you  whom the peoples acclaim:  Come to deliver us and do not delay.  Today is about family.  Children and grandchildren, parents and grandparents –  Each of us has ancestors going back and back into history.   A few days ago we heard the genealogy of Jesus.  Jesse, father of King David, is one of his ancestors.   Jesus is of Jesse’s stock.   That is why we have a Jesse tree in Advent.

The scripture background to this antiphon is from Isaiah chapter 11. There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of its roots, And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him

Isaiah also said: Like a sapling he grew up before us, like a root in dry ground, Yet he was despised and rejected by men,  a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. The tree became the tree of the cross.  This is the sign for all the nations. Remember Jesus said: “I, when I am lifted up will draw all peoples to myself And he told us we are part of his tree I am the true vine, you are the branches.”  The bare branches of our winter trees remind us of how much we need Jesus to come and deliver us now – and give us new life. Listen carefully to today’s readings.

 O Jesus, you are the Stock of Jesse,   You stand as a sign for all the nations,  kings fall silent before you whom the peoples acclaim: Come to deliver us and do not delay.  Matthew 1:1-16     Isaiah 11:1-4    53:1-3     John 15:5   12:32


O Key of David  

O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel, What you open no-one can close, What you close no-one can open, Come to lead the captive from prison, Free those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death.  Jesus is our key to the kingdom of God. Because of him there are no locked doors between God and us.  God gives us free access to himself and God asks us to open ourselves to Him.  We are members of Jesus’ family.  So we also are meant to be keys – keys to open doors for other people.   How?   We free people when we affirm them, calm their fears, when we are with them in their anxieties and put up with their quirks – we free people when we love them as we love ourselves.

As Paul says: God through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation…so we are ambassadors of Christ’. O Key of David..Come to lead the captive from prison…Free those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death.  Isaiah 22:22-23    Ephesians 2:13,18-19  Revelation 3:7-8


O Rising Sun

O Rising Sun, You are the splendour of  eternal light and sun of justice. Come and give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death. Today is the winter solstice  – the darkest day of the year.  For the pagans it was the day for the Celebration of the Unconquered Sun.   They believed that the Sun would come again. Instinctively we look for light.   Today we call on Jesus, the light of the world who is to be born again in us this Christmas and give us hope. St John says:   “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it”

We know something of the darkness of our times – in the world, in our country, in this neighbourhood, in our families. We call on Jesus as Sun of Justice – to take our needs in hand because we trust him.  We call on him to help us to be just and good people who bring light to others. O  Rising Sun, eternal light and Sun of Justice. Come and give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death. John 1: 1-9   Isaiah 9:1-3;  60:19-20   Psalm 72      Mark 16:2


O King of Peoples  

O King of Peoples, whom all the people desire. You are the cornerstone which makes all one. O come and save us whom you made from clay. Today we describe Jesus as ‘the cornerstone’.   When you think of a building the cornerstone is the one that integrates two walls running in different directions. The peoples of the earth are divided in so many ways. Think of Palestine, Iraq, Pakistan – all the wars. Then think of the people you do not get along well with, even within your families, your friends, neighbours, or at work.

Jesus the cornerstone reconciles difference while respecting our infinite variety.  He is the one who can make us into a new building, using all our different ideas and talents. Today in the name of all peoples we call on Jesus, Prince of Peace to heal  our divisions.

O King of Peoples, You are the cornerstone which makes all one, Come and save us whom you made from clay. Ephesians 2:14-22   1Peter 2:4-10 (Isaiah 8:16 Psalm 118:22), Isaiah 2:2-4


O Emmanuel 

O Emmanuel, you are our King and Judge. The one whom peoples await and their Saviour. O come and save us Lord, our God. ‘He shall be called Emmanuel – God with us’.   That is what Joseph was told by the angel. So we call him by that name in the last of the O antiphons – God with us.  His presence is not just fact of history but a fact of today.  His presence is salvation for us, now. He is always with us yet. He is always coming to give us a new beginning. That is what Christmas reminds us of.

After today there will be no more O antiphons.   The Vigil of Christmas will arrive and we will no longer cry ‘O’ but say with confidence: Today we know that the Lord will come and tomorrow you will see his glory. St Leo the Great said in his Christmas sermon:  ‘O Christian be aware of your nobility – it is God’s own nature that you share’ And so we pray that God’s salvation will be worked in us.

O Emmanuel.  The one whom peoples await and their Saviour.  Come and save us Lord, our God.  Matthew 1:20-24  (Isaiah 7:14)    Revelation 21:3