2.12.09

Advent Spirituality

O Come O Come Emmanuel
O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan's tyranny
From depths of Hell Thy people save
And give them victory o'er the grave
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death's dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, O come, Thou Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai's height,
In ancient times did'st give the Law,
In cloud, and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel. 

In 'Spirituality' this morning, Andi Bowsher led us in an exploration of this hymn and we responded with some of the following thoughts. 

This hymn has a poignancy which we do not find in the other up-beat and rejoicing hymns. This hymn resonates, surely for those for whom Christmas really is a time of longing. This hymn carries some of this pain, it lacks that Victorian sentimentality which has flavoured many of our hymns. This hymn is all about Jesus but it doesn't explicitly use this as a title for him. Is this hymn more accessible for those for whom the word Jesus comes with a lot of baggage.


This hymn is rooted in the past and yet is prophetic, in its pointing to the future. It encourages people to rejoice no matter how they are feeling. It is rooted in what has come before: the story of Israel.

It derives from the 9th century. There were 7 antiphons sung from the 17th to the 24th as part of the preparation for Chritmas itself - Christmas day is all about longing and anticipation. Symbolically we are constructing again the sense that Christ is imminent, even though we are living with him now and yet there is also the sense of a longing for the ultimate advent - his second coming. 

There is a restrained joy, not an effervescence of emotion but a hopeful lamenting.

When does advent begin? The fourth Sunday before Christmas. In the Orthodox East they start the period earlier. The Orthodox begin the season forty days before Christmas. In the eastern Orthodox church they refer to this season as 'the little Lent'. 'Little Lent' captures this sense of disciplined preparation. In the Eastern Orthodox church, they refrain from sex and fast and do not consume meat.

In the Medieval West there was a focus on the four last things during this time: Death, Judgment, Hell and Heaven. If we think about advent in terms of these things then there is a penitential element to Advent. Not only are we to celebrate his arrival, we are to consider too the second coming and Christ's judgment of all things.

Liturgically in the west, this is the reason that we have the purple which is traditionally the colour for penitence. It also symbolises the purple of the royal robes and the coming King.

Some parts of the church use a blue cloth, it connotes Mary as we think about her at this time and the longing for heaven with which we associate blue.

How are the themes of joyful hope and penitential yearning expressed in yoyr own use of advent?

I am sensing more as the years go by a kind of yearning for the immediacy (I think intimacy is probably what I mean, DDD) of Jesus for other people and myself. Christmas makes Jesus 'other' for me at times, as the Spiritual reality of this Saviour with whom I have a daily relationship shrinks and becomes incorporated into hymns that are sung without us being conscious of whom we are singing to, or he becomes static and confined to a small basket in a crib scene, for many he has never been allowed to grow up and die on the cross for our sins. So I struggle with what Jesus becomes or even doesn't become in our secularised offerings which are so feeble and irreverent.

What does Christmas mean to you?

1 comment:

DDD III said...

Morning, Rachel, Always enjoy your writing. I'm thinking on this side of the pond we might replace your "immediacy" with "intimacy". The world is filled with "immediate" things but, as Tom Wright ointed out in your post from a few days back, that is certainly not the same as intimacy, it does not solve the problem of "virtual" instead of "real". It makes me think, as father of a teenager almost adult, of the longing to feel the wee little guy in my arms again. Holding the picture, the virtual, is no good. So, as this remembrance of the intimacy of God Enfleshed returns, how do we share thatreality? Certainly not in bits of molded plaster or plastic or sentimental pictures. Maybe we should do what Jesus did, touch someone!

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