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Saturday, Third Week of Advent

December 17, 2011

Blessed Ember Saturday!

Today, we begin a period called the “golden nights”, the final count-down to Christmas,
during which we pray the O Antiphons–they all begin with “O” and are antiphons (responses)
to the Magnificat (Mary’s song of praise: Luke 1:46-55).
These antiphons were originally composed at least 1000 years ago
for use during Evening Prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours,
the prayer that priests and Religious promise to pray every day
(laypeople are encouraged to pray it too).
These antiphons are also used as the Alleluia verse during Mass during these count-down days.
In the O Antiphons we call Jesus by titles given to Him in the prophesies of Isaiah
and plead with Him to come and save us.

In Latin, the initials of the titles of Jesus used in the O Antiphons, when read backwards,
form an acrostic for the Latin “Ero Cras” which means “Tomorrow I come”
(which will be true the night before Christmas Eve,
when we will have prayed all of these antiphons).
These titles for Christ are: Sapientia (Wisdom), Adonai (Lord), Radix Jesse (Root of Jesse),
Clavis David (Key of David), Oriens (Morning Star), Rex Gentium (King of the Gentiles),
Emmanuel (God-With-Us).
These antiphons are also found in the song, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”.

In the home, the O Antiphons could be prayed together around the Advent wreath
when you light the candles (if you don’t have an Advent wreath,
lighting any candle while you pray helps set the atmosphere).
For a longer prayer, you could pray the O Antiphon before and after the Magnificat,
the way it’s prayed during Evening Prayer.
You could also make symbols for the antiphons to use in decorating
(oil lamp, burning bush, key, stump with shoot, rising sun, etc.)

Here’s today’s antiphon:

O Wisdom
Who issued from the mouth of the Most High,
Reaching out mightily from end to end,
And ordering all things tenderly
Come to teach us the way of prudence.

Note the relationship with the following verses:

Isaiah 11:2-3:
And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him:
the spirit of wisdom, and of understanding,
the spirit of counsel, and of fortitude,
the spirit of knowledge, and of godliness.
And he shall be filled with the spirit of the fear of the Lord

(see also Isaiah 28:29, Sirach 24:2-3 & Wisdom 8:1.)

A shift in the readings of Advent begins today too.
From here on our Gospels will be dealing more directly
with the events immediately leading up to Jesus’ birth.

O God, Creator and Redeemer of human nature,
who willed that your Word should take flesh
in an ever-virgin womb,
look with favor on our prayers,
that your Only Begotten Son,
having taken to himself our humanity,
may be pleased to grant us a share in his divinity.
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
(Opening Prayer from today’s Mass)

Readings:
Genesis 49:2, 8-10 (Jacob’s blessing of Judah, ancestor of Jesus)
Psalm 72: 3-4, 7-8, 17 “Justice shall flourish in His time and fullness of peace forever”
+ Matthew 1:1-17 (genealogy of Jesus)

The story of Jesus begins at the beginning,
even by human standards.

Even before Adam fell, Jesus was present within him
…in seed form…
seed that would be passed down generation by generation in an unbroken line
until He sprang forth in all His glory
in the fullness of time (see Galatians 4:4).

Today’s readings don’t go quite that far back
(although Luke’s genealogy, written for a Gentile audience, does, see Luke 3:23).
Matthew, writing for Jews, only goes back to Abraham, Father of the Jewish race,
to whom God had promised land, countless descendants and worldwide blessing
(see Genesis 12:2-3; 15:5, 18; 23:15-18).
Generation by generation St. Matthew lists the familiar names (and some not quite so familiar).
For his audience, grown up on these stories from childhood,
bells must’ve rung.

“Isaac, of course I know him–the miracle baby whose name means ‘laughter’
because his aged parents laughed at the very idea of having a son (see Genesis 18:1-15, 21:1-3),
and whom God commanded be sacrificed
–only to be rescued at the last moment–
as a test of Father Abraham’s love for God (see Genesis 22).

“Then his son, Jacob, who tricked his brother out of the birthright (see Genesis 25:27-34; 27),
was renamed ‘Israel’ when he wrestled with an angel all night (see Genesis 32:23-29),
and fathered our twelve tribes (see Genesis 29:31-30:24, 35:16-18).

“And of course, Judah, his son, and leader of the twelve,
was promised a royal dynasty,
symbolized by the lion, the king of beasts (see Genesis 49:8-10).

“Perez, well, that’s not a story we like to think about, but God permitted it! (see Genesis 38)

“The next few don’t show up much–just in lists of names,
although Nashon is listed as prince of the tribe of Judah and assistant to Moses
during the exodus (see Numbers 1:7, 2:3)–
but I know Rahab, the harlot who hid the Israelites spies in Jericho (see Joshua 2),
and her son Boaz, who married the praiseworthy Moabitess, Ruth (see Ruth).

“And their son was Obed, father of Jesse, father of the celebrated King David,
in whom the promise of kingship was gloriously realized,
although I don’t like being reminded of his affair with Bathsheba (see II Samuel 11).
Why would God want His king born of an adulteress?!

“And wise King Solomon started so well (see I Kings 3), but tragically fell so far,
his heart turned to idols by his hundreds of foreign wives (see I Kings 11)!

“His son, Rehoboam’s cockiness cost him most of the kingdom (see I Kings12)
and things went downhill from there.

Some of the kings were good, but there were some real embarrassments–
like Manasseh, who set up prostitution-based idol worship
within God’s holy temple (II Kings 21:4-5, 23:7)!
No wonder God allowed the nation to be conquered and the temple destroyed!

“At least Zerubbabel, governor of Judah after the exile
listened to God and led the rebuilding of the temple
and the reestablishment of sacred worship there (see Haggai 1).

“I lose track after that.
After all the ups & downs
the line of the promise passes to a bunch of nobodies.”

Yet…

For a tree there is hope, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again
and that its tender shoots will not cease.
Even though its root grow old in the earth, and its stump die in the dust,
yet at the first whiff of water it may flourish again
and put forth branches like a young plant.
-Job 14:7-9

St. Matthew is holding out this hope:
a shoot from the stump of Jesse (see Isaiah 11:10),
a new royal son of David (Matthew 1:1).

David! David! David!
he cries with the number fourteen
(Hebrew letters also stand for numbers & the name “David” adds up to fourteen)
And the threefold repetition indicates a superlative–the ultimate David.
The Lion of the tribe of Judah (see Revelation 5:5).
The ultimate King.
The Messiah…at last!

And He’s been with us through everything–
the good, the bad and the ugly.
God never gave up on us.
He keeps His promises…even when we break ours.

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