A Pastoral Word
Advent: The Patterns of Promise
This world has no shortage of promises that compete to capture our hearts and lives as we prepare for Christmas. Joy, fulfillment, happiness, and more will be promised through family experiences, shopping, traditions, food, expert advice, and the list could go on and on. As good as these can be for us and for the world, without Jesus, all of these promises fall short. Into this mix of Christmas season promises comes Advent: a season of hope, expectation, and promise. Advent is a season that recalls God's [promises to the people of God]. Advent anticipates the Christmas celebration of God's Messiah and Savior who came in the person of Jesus Christ.
Advent also looks forward in anticipation to the complete fulfillment of God's promises that will come [when God's Kingdom is fully realized here on Earth]. Where all other promises fall short, the promises of God recalled in Advent not only endure, but also bring everlasting life! As Midway Christian Church journeys through the season of Advent this year, we will use the spiritual practices of the Jesse Tree and the O-Antiphons, seven ancient prayers, to guide our worship experience.
The Jesse Tree is named from Isaiah 11:1: "A shoot shall come out of the stock of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots." Jesse was the father of King David. As you may recall, King David is just one of the people found in the long list of Jesus' genealogy. We adorn a Jesse tree with illustrated ornaments that represent the people, prophesies, and events leading up to the birth of Jesus. The ornaments of the Jesse Tree tell the story of God in the Old Testament, connecting the Advent season with the faithfulness of God across four thousand years of history. During worship, we will decorate our Jesse Tree to remind ourselves of the patterns of promise that have been interwoven into our faith story as the people of God.
The O-Antiphons are seven prayers composed by Benedictine monks sometime in the seventh or eighth century. The prayers—O Wisdom, O Lord, O Root of Jesse, O Key of David, O Dayspring, O King of the Nations, O Emmanuel—each point to a specific title for the Messiah as well as a promise to be fulfilled in Him. They are rooted in the book of Isaiah the prophet and appeal to Biblical events throughout the Old Testament -Creation, Mount Sinai, etc... As Christians, we see the promises that these prayers bring finding their fulfillment in and through Jesus. Together, these ancient prayers recall God's certain promises to and for the people of God. The O-Antiphons became part of the liturgy of the Church in the Middle Ages and monastic choirs raised these image-rich verses in song. Today we hear the O-Antiphons most commonly sung as the verses of the hymn "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel."
But these seven prayers and the Jesse Tree are not just about the Old Testament. Together they point us to Jesus who came as God in flesh as a baby in Bethlehem's manager, died on the cross as Savior of the world, rose from the dead as King of Kings, and who will come again to bring about God's promised New Creation.
Just a side note and a piece of interesting information to help us all remember that there is more to the promises of God for us as people of faith than just being words telling us about the past. The first letter of each Antiphon in Latin also anticipates Jesus' second coming. Taken together and in reverse order these first letters create a Latin phrase -ERO CRAS. that may mean, "Tomorrow I will be there." How appropriate as we wait with expectation the [coming of] Jesus when He will bring the complete fulfillment of all God's promises! Jesus says to us and to all who wait for His return, "Tomorrow I will be there!"
And yet, these O-Antiphons and yes, even the Jesse Tree do more than just recall the past and point us to Jesus' second coming. They engage our present discipleship journeys. Jesus transforms our lives by bearing the titles and promises of the O-Antiphons, by telling us the old, old story that grounds us and reminds us we are not alone. These spiritual practices become ways that we can engage and incorporate the patterns of promise given to us by our God into our everyday existence as we follow Him. Into our season of Christmas preparations where we are offered so many worldly promises of joy, hope, and fulfillment, may we pray for and receive God's certain promises in Jesus, promises that transform us into people of light and love in this season of anticipation. O come, O come, Emmanuel!
(excerpts taken from http://stlukeaa.org/advent-a-season-of-promise/)