the penultimate WORD
Series 2005 -
The Irvine Tartan • My monthly column in The New Brunswick Anglican
December 16 marks O Sapientia in the Prayer Book Calendar. The successive nights, seven in all, lead inexorably to the eve of the Holy Birth. The Great “O” Antiphons of Advent witness the emergence of that redemptive event. O Wisdom – which came out of the mouth of the Most High, and reaches from one end to another, mightily and sweetly ordering all things: come and teach us the way of prudence.
The eve of the Holy Birth, arbitrarily established by a solar calendar, recognizes the culmination of the Hanukah observance that would have been fresh in the memory of Jesus’ youth as he observed the Festival of Light established by a lunar calendar. The Octave does not miss the point in these Great Antiphons: the Hebraic anticipation of the Messiah, prefigured by the Maccabees, illumined the birth of a babe placed and admired in a manger by dim lamp-light.
Light one candle... for the Maccabee children. Give thanks that their light didn’t die!
Peter, Paul and Mary blend their voices in the Hanukah carol that resonates with the final preparations that occupy us as we draw closer to our Nativity Communion.
The salvation history of God is rehearsed in these Great Antiphons of the birth of the Messiah. O Lord, Adonai, Leader of the house of Israel, who appeared in the bush to Moses in a flame of fire, and gave him the law in Sinai: come and redeem us with an outstretched arm. The heel of oppression and timely deliverance by God recycles redemption first through Moses and later through Judah Maccabees and then continuingly in Jesus. Light one candle... for the pain they endured, when their right to exist was denied! Candles of flickering hope in previous generations were quenched – but in Bethlehem the pain of childbirth one wholly darkened night was honoured in obscurity.
A fourth candle and another Great Antiphon invokes the Scion of Jesse, standing as an ensign of the People, at whom kings shall stop their mouths, whom the Gentiles shall seek: come and deliver us, and tarry not! The heir of David on a Cross demands that we light one candle... for the terrible sacrifice justice and freedom demand: a darkened Friday anticipated in a darkened world.
Another night another day and a new Antiphon – O Key of David, Sceptre and the house of Israel; that opens and no man shuts, and shuts and no man opens: come and bring forth the prisoners out of the prison house. Lives imprisoned by Pharaoh, by Alexander the Great, by Caesar are called out – locks fall open, chains and shackles are loosened as fresh pasturage and wilderness greet grazing lamb and carnivorous lion in a peace unique to God. Light one candle... for the wisdom to know when the Peacemakers’ time is at hand!
O Day-spring, Brightness of the Light everlasting, and Sun of righteousness: come and enlighten them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. Darkness overcome from without leaves darkness yet to be overcome from within – as reconciliation and the assurance of God’s promise of forgiveness is realized in the darkness that has swallowed us whole. Then wit is found to light one candle... for the strength that we need to never become our own foe!
The darkest night of our cyclical journey is illumined by the sixth torch taking its place beside the others… a lengthening avenue of light heralding the King of Nations and their Desire; the Cornerstone, who makes both one: come and save mankind, whom thou formed of clay. Light one candle... for those who are suffering; they withered so long ago!
Another night and another day and voices blend inviting Emmanuel, our King and Lawgiver, Desire of all nations and their Salvation: come and save us, O Lord our God. Reclamation hoped for, given voice in every age, cries out in fear swallowed by darkness that fire be found to light yet one more candle... for all we believe in; let anger not tear us apart!
This seventh day leads into another and the Eighth Great Antiphon – and the Virgin of virgins, is acclaimed. How shall this be? For neither before thee was any like thee, nor shall there be after. Daughters of Jerusalem, why marvel ye at me? That which ye behold is a divine mystery. Mary’s will to obey reflects a higher will to save, and a great source of light for one more candle... that binds us together – that Peace is a song in our heart!
Hebraic imagery interwoven with the fulfillment of the evangelists’ accounts finds expression in the birth of Promise on a wholly desperate plain of Bethlehem. That imagery resonates with us still, after these many generations. No less now, as then, do we approach a date and an event made all the more catholic by its embrace of two calendars!
The solar orb lighting our day, the lunar orb lighting our night – these have served to cast out darkness from afar. But for eons their vigil to our paths did not have any rush to redeem, lift up, dust off and encourage. These orbs watching from the foundation of creation did not flinch at injustice, intercede for the exploited, and heal the oppressed. The poor and the exploited and oppressed suffered both under the heat of the day and the chill of the night as others enjoyed privilege and power.
By the lunar calendar the first candle of Hanukkah will be lighted as the Eighth Great Antiphon of Advent is announced. In the one is seen a cycle of anticipation, while in the other a cycle of proclamation.
A light – we know him by name – has come into more than a family, more than a People. This light has come into the world! The refrain by the mistrals of my college days shouts out: “Don’t let the light go out!” This light has touched lives that stumble in darkness. “It’s lasted for so many years!” they sing.
Don’t let the light go out. Let it shine through our love and our tears!
Copyright © 2005 James T. Irvine