O Dayspring, splendor of light everlasting:
Come and enlighten those who sit in darkness
And in the shadow of death
Today is the winter solstice. The shortest day of the year. The year when light and day is cornered, shrunken, nearly swallowed up by night. Is it any wonder then that we in these northern climes delight to place lights anywhere we can? On the tree, on the house, in the fireplaces. It is a small rebellion against the darkness. And a small reflection of that far greater light which neither night nor winter can extinguish.
“The light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it” John 1:5.
Jesus is the rising sun. He who comes to us just at our darkest, just in the deepest night of sin and death, when we who sit in darkness have no light and shines on us in splendor. I love this phrase, splendor of light everlasting. Light that has no end. Sun that never sets. Life, never extinguished. For His life could not be extinguished even by death. He who died, also rose. And His light is the life of men. In His light we see light. And through His death and resurrection, through the forgiveness of every sin, through the shining away of all darkness, we will be brought into His brilliant presence. There, in that place, there will be no winter, no shortest day of the year. He is the new day. The brilliant sun which goes not down. The splendor of heaven itself. Come, O Dayspring, and shine!
O come Thou Dayspring from on high,
And cheer us by Thy drawing nigh,
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
O Key of David and scepter of the
House of Israel, You open and no one
Can close, You close and no one can open:
Come and rescue the prisoners who are in darkness
And the shadow of death
A key is a simple thing. It only has two functions. It can lock. And it can unlock. But depending on what is being opened or closed that key can have great power. A bouncer at a club is a sort of a key, he lets some in and keeps others out. At church the other night in Markesan the automatic door lock seemed to be randomly locking certain people out as they tried to open the door. We joked that it was judging some unworthy to enter. The act of locking or unlocking is an act of judging. Therefore it is the act of a king. Of a God. For only God can judge.
Jesus as King and God and Savior is the only one with the key. He is the doorkeeper to the gates of heaven, not St. Peter! He locks or unlocks heaven’s door. He comes to open wide heaven’s gate through the forgiveness of our sins. This is the essence of His Kingdom. That on the basis of who He is and what He has done we are forgiven and set free. The gates of hell are overcome and the gates of heaven are opened. He comes into death’s darkness to burst open the gates and set us prisoners free. “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” (Hebrews 2:14-15)
This key He has also given to Peter (Matthew 16) and to all the Apostles (Matthew 18) and to all of His believers (John 20). Because He gives us His Word. The Word which creates faith in the forgiveness of sins. The Word which we can give to others to give them the same. The Word which casts out guilt and sin, opens the door of the prison and swings wide heaven’s gates. The Word of Jesus. The Son and Key of David.
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! Immanuel shall come to thee O Israel.
O Root of Jesse, standing as an ensign
Before the peoples, before whom all
Kings are mute, to whom the nations will do homage:
Come quickly to deliver us
Imagine you were standing before some great king. A man who wielded complete power. A man whose every whim was obeyed, whose pleasure was life and whose wroth, death. You might find yourself a little nervous. You might find yourself gone temporarily mute.
Well that is how earthly kings, all human beings are before Christ. This antiphon grabs up 4 different sections of Isaiah’s prophecy and beautifully compresses them into one earnest prayer. He is the “root of Jesse.” that’s from Isaiah 11. That is, he is the source of Jesse. But of course He is also, as the same verses teach, the branch that grows from Jesse’s stump. For He is the great son of Jesse’s great son David. To Him the Lord God will give the throne of His Father David!
And He is an ensign. That’s from Isaiah 11:10. An ensign is a banner, a rallying point for an army in the midst of battle. That ensign is His cross. Jesus says, “I when I am lifted up from the earth will draw all people to Himself.” And so Jew and Gentile alike will come to do him homage. The last verses of Isaiah 52 speak about how kings will be mute before Him. And Psalm 2 tells how the kings of the earth better “kiss the Son lest he be angry.”
This strong one. The root and offspring of Jesse. David’s Son yet David’s Lord. King of Kings. He is coming to deliver! He is coming to take His cross and crown. To bleed His precious blood. For you. And through that cross to gather you to Himself.
Come quickly, O root of Jesse!
O come thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny,
Who trust Thy mighty power to save,
And give us victory o’er the grave.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee O Israel.
O Adonai and ruler of the house of Israel,
Who appeared to Moses in the burning bush
And gave him the Law on Sinai:
Come with an outstretched arm
And redeem us.
“I barely recognize you.” If it’s been 20 or 30 years since you’ve seen someone, you might say say so. Well at the time of Christ’s first coming it had been about 1000 years since the revelation of God referenced in our antiphon. And there’s no way you’d recognize in the manger-babe the God who called to Moses out of the burning bush, the terrifying Lord that thundered from the mountain, gave the law to His people and killed 3,000 of them for making and worshiping the golden calf.
Yet that small voice is the same one that called to Moses from the bush and those tiny arms are the mighty right arm of the Lord who once thundered on Sinai. The appropriate reaction to this is holy fear. As Moses who took off his shoes to stand on that holy ground and then lay down before the presence of the Lord on the mountain. Yet it is so strange that this Lord, this master, should come to us so. As a child. For He who gave the law has now come to fulfill it. He who is our Lord, came to pay all our debts and redeem us from sin, death, and the devil. He whose holiness was seen then in thick cloud and smoke, in judgment and wrath, now will show that holiness in a perfect life of love and then in suffering himself underneath the black wrath of the Judge. All so that He might be your Lord again. That just as He brought His people out of Egypt with a strong arm and so redeemed them to be His people so he might also make you His own by leading you out of death and hell to be His very own.
O Come, O Come, Thou Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes on Sinai’s height,
In ancient times didst give the law,
In cloud and majesty and awe:
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to Thee O Israel!
O Wisdom, proceeding from the mouth of the Most High,
Pervading and permeating all creation,
Mightily ordering all things:
Come and teach us the way of prudence.
In proverbs Solomon advises us, “The beginning of wisdom is this: get wisdom.” What he means is that wisdom begins with the desire for and determination to have wisdom. It is recognizing that one does not have wisdom in himself and that one desperately needs it. This antiphon prays for exactly that. Further it also recognizes where the true and full wisdom comes from.
Proverbs 8 teaches us that Christ is wisdom personified. This is the same as John 1 saying that Jesus is the Word made flesh. For it is the mouth of the Lord which pours forth wisdom (Proverbs 2:6) and it is on “every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:3) that man is to live. That word proceeding from the mouth of the Lord is Jesus Christ. He is the one who became for us wisdom from God. And it is His Word which is able to make you “wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 3:15).
In sophomore year English class, Prof Sullivan used to begin the year by having us all say “I am ignorant.” His point was, we should begin the study of something by recognizing our ignorance about it and then gain knowledge. No one who thinks he is wise in himself will ever be able to find wisdom. But in this prayer we pray for Christ to come as our wisdom because we recognize that we do not have it. We do not know how to order our lives for our own or our neighbor’s temporal and eternal good. We do not know ourselves or our God. We do not know the way to life eternal. But Jesus knows all these things. He Himself is these things and teaches these things. He opens His mouth and by soaking in His Word we find wisdom. We find wisdom in His law which teaches us about ourselves and our neighbors and our God. It teaches what duties we owe and how we ought to order our lives and live in this world. It also shows us the spiritual truth about our status before God as sinners. That is, it teaches us that we are not wise ourselves.
Jesus then also gives us the wisdom of the gospel, that is of the cross, which is our salvation. Here is a philosophy that actually works! It leads to eternal life. O come, wisdom and teach us!