Before last week I had never heard of the “O Antiphones”. So called, because each piece starts with the call “O”, these little advent hymns are built around the names of Messiah found in the book of the prophet Isaiah – O Wisdom, O Lord, O Root of Jesse, O Key of David, O Dayspring, O King, O Emmanuel. It was through following an advent series of blog posts by Maggi Dawn that my eyes were opened and my heart touched by these treasures. Let me give you one example of what you will find here.
Referring to one antiphone entitled O Rex Gentium (O King of the nations), Maggi (@maggidawn) tweeted:
King? Judge? is that a good name for God in a democratic society?
In her blog post she answers the question like this:
Authoritarianism is ugly, but authority is good; Judgemental is ghastly, but someone who ushers in true justice would surely be welcomed by the vast majority of people.
Isaiah’s words suggest that the Messiah qualifies as Rex Gentium [ King of the Nations] precisely because only he can handle power and authority without becoming corrupt; only he can be a judge who is unbiased in his concern for true justice, and not open to coercion. He is a counsellor, an arbitrator, the prince of peace, under whose governance war will end and true peace be established. He does not favour the rich over the poor, but lifts up the needy from the ash heap.
I have found the whole series a wonderful experience. You will find a brief introduction to these little gems in this post. This type of ancient music and the liturgical background is not something I have had any experience of before, other than the occasional attendance at Eucharist at the Church of England Teacher training College where I studied (though I was not a believer at that time).
The words are simple and profound; the music is unadorned (I think it is plain song); the style of singing encourages reflection on the words, rather than admiration of the musical ability of the singers – though they are very good! If, like me, Latin is not one of your languages, Maggi has provided helpful translations.
What I enjoyed about her commentaries in this series is the way she refers to several Scriptures to draw out the meaning of each antiphone. But what appeals to me most is the way that she encourages us to ponder the role and nature of Jesus Christ, who is central to each piece.
This is an advent series and it expresses the longing which must surely be in the heart of every Christian, that King Jesus will return and take up his throne. As Maggi says:
He is a counsellor, an arbitrator, the prince of peace, under whose governance war will end and true peace be established
“He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20).