I’ll admit- I’m not ready for Christmas. It feels like just yesterday I was stuffed from eating turkey & mashed potatoes with gravy, laying on my living-room couch back home in Connecticut, watching the Detroit Lions play football. Then, it seems that I drove back, had some classes and papers to do, and here I am, with Christmas staring me in the face. Yes, I went to mass every Sunday, and yes- I heard the readings & prayers. But to be honest, Advent flew by in a whirlwind, and somehow I ended up here. I am, in fact, cramming for Christmas.
All of those Advent devotional books I was given went unread. Those prayer services went unattended. The discipline of daily mass, the Divine Office, and a daily Rosary loosened. While I did the bare-minimum of attending mass weekly, it was largely at a different church depending on the week, and I cannot tell you what the homilies were about. I woke up, went to class, read books for class, wrote papers, submitted proposals, ate like trash, did my nightly “scroll on the phone until midnight”, and woke up the next day. My schedule (both work and school) intensified this past month, and while I kept up a (minimal) prayer life, I can say with certainty that I am not ready for Christmas.
What does one do when a liturgical season flies by without any real, tangible experience of God? How can I celebrate Christmas when I barely prepared the “way of the Lord”? Do I simply shut myself in my room and listen to Handel’s “Messiah” on repeat until December 25th?
I think my experience of Advent can be likened to the way the people of the Old Testament “prepared” for the coming of the Lord. When reading the OT, it seems like it’s a game of “Icy Hot”. For every person “on fire” with the Lord, preaching the coming of the “Messiah”, there’s a dozen instances of people whose hearts grew cold- they are asleep at the wheel, going about their daily activities, breaking the covenant God had established with them.
For me, it’s too late to “catch up” with those seasonal devotional books. No amount of Advent Hymn Pandora can make up for lost time. I am less than a week away from Christmas, and I am going to have to celebrate it with what I have. I long for Christ but this past Advent, my longing has been interrupted by things which I placed before the Lord. Thankfully, the Church has something that can be a spiritual buoy for me these last few days of the Advent season: the “O Antiphons”.
As the USCCB writes,
“The Roman Church has been singing the “O” Antiphons since at least the eighth century. They are the antiphons that accompany the Magnificat canticle of Evening Prayer from December 17-23. They are a magnificent theology that uses ancient biblical imagery drawn from the messianic hopes of the Old Testament to proclaim the coming Christ as the fulfillment not only of Old Testament hopes, but present ones as well. Their repeated use of the imperative “Come!” embodies the longing of all for the Divine Messiah.”
And here they are:
O Wisdom of our God Most High,
guiding creation with power and love:
come to teach us the path of knowledge!
O Leader of the House of Israel,
giver of the Law to Moses on Sinai:
come to rescue us with your mighty power!
O Root of Jesse’s stem,
sign of God’s love for all his people:
come to save us without delay!
O Key of David,
opening the gates of God’s eternal Kingdom:
come and free the prisoners of darkness!
O Radiant Dawn,
splendor of eternal light, sun of justice:
come and shine on those who dwell in darkness and in the
shadow of death.
O King of all nations and keystone of the Church:
come and save man, whom you formed from the dust!
O Emmanuel, our King and Giver of Law:
come to save us, Lord our God!
What if I used these as my prayer each day until Christmas Eve? Do not these antiphons, which uses ancient expressions of messianic expectation, speak to my heart today? I desire salvation, order, life, and light. Who else can save me, besides the Key of David (Dec. 20th), who opens the gates to eternal life? Who else can order my life in the way of God besides the Wisdom Incarnate (Dec. 17), who orders all creation? (Proverbs 8:30, c.f. John 1:3)
Or, in an academic comparison, if Christmas is a final exam, then these “O Antiphons” are my SparkNotes. I will pray with them and reflect on what the coming of Christ means- and how it has consequences for my life, my priorities, my relationships, and my worldview.
Come, Lord Jesus, and be gentle on grading me!