Reflections for the Fourth Week of Advent 2011**
** These homilies were written by Fr. Howard in 2008, 2009 and 2010.
They refer to the daily readings for the Fourth Week of Advent 2011.
Sunday of the Fourth Week of Advent 2011
December 18, O Adonai
Today we begin the final week of Advent before the coming of the Lord on Christmas. These are special days in the Liturgy. Christ’s coming is now near and the Liturgy focuses on him by a special praising of his various names. These different names of the Lord are recalled at Vespers or Evening Prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours and every day in the Antiphons right before the recitation of the Magnificat. These special antiphons are referred to as the O Antiphons because they all begin with the acclamation O. Their exact origin is not known, but mention is made of them already in the 5th century. Let us reflect and meditate during this time on the Antiphon proper to each day.
The O Antiphon for this final Sunday of Advent is: “O sacred Lord of ancient Israel, who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush, who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain: come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free.”
Almighty God (I am He and there is no other) willed to set Israel and its chosen people free from the forced trials of Pharaoh. He chose Moses and his brother, Aaron, to be his mediators and to lead his people to the land of milk and honey. It was God’s will to redeem his people, to raise them, deliver them, ransom them, and set them free from the darkness of sin. We are set free by the law given to Moses by God on Sinai.
Some say that law restricts us, but that is not really true. Rather, it frees us to live peacefully and safely. For example, we have the traffic light law that tells us to stop when the light is red and to go when it is green. If everyone would obey this law, we would all be free to drive safely and peacefully without being worried about accidents. We would all be going in the same direction according to God’s directives.
“Indeed, the Lord will be with us, majestic; yes the Lord our judge, the Lord our lawgiver, the Lord our King, he it is who will save us.” (Isaiah 33: 22).
Monday of the Fourth Week of Advent
December 19, O Radix Jesse.
The O Antiphon for today reads: “O Flower of Jesse’s stem, you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples; kings stand silent in your presence; the nations bow down in worship before you. Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid.”
Jesus is the sign of our happiness, peace, comfort, our wholeness, holiness. He came as man, as we have seen before, to raise the level of human consciousness. We cannot do this alone. For that matter, we cannot do anything alone. Jesus told us: Without me, you can do nothing.
Lord, help us to realize that our way, our efforts alone, are not enough for us to possess the happiness, peace, wholeness and holiness we desire. Come, O Flower of Jesse’s stem!
“But a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom. On that day, the root of Jesse, set up as a signal for the nations, the Gentiles shall seek out, for his dwelling shall be glorious.” (Isaiah 11: 1 and 11: 10).
Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Advent
December 20, O Clavis David
The O Antiphon for this fourth Tuesday of Advent is: “O Key of David, O royal Power of Israel controlling at your will the gate of heaven: Come, break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death; and lead your captive people into freedom.”
It is the Lord and the Lord alone, through his redemptive sacrifice, who opens for us the gates of heaven. If we return his love and try to do what he wills us to do, then we will benefit from his promise to us: Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it entered the mind of humankind what God has prepared for those who love him.
Lord Jesus, help us to know your will for us and to do it. Help us to realize deep within our hearts that YOU are the way, the truth and the life and not we ourselves.
“Adonai will place the Key of the House of David on his shoulder; when he opens, not one shall shut, when he shuts, no one will open.” (Isaiah 22: 22).
Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Advent
December 21, O Oriens
Today’s O Antiphon states: “O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: Come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.”
Lord, without your divine light in our lives, we will stumble and fall a million times. We are all dust and to dust we shall return. My walk is unsteady. The pot holes of temptation are often in my way and without your light to see the way, I will surely stumble and fall. Come with your light, Help me to see!
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shown.” (Isaiah 9: 1).
Thursday of the Fourth Week of Advent
December 22, O Rex Gentium
The O Antiphon for today reads: “O King of all the nations, the only joy of every human heart; O Keystone of the mighty arch of humankind, come and save the creation you fashioned from the dust.”
We have defined JOY many times before as the feeling produced by our doing things the way God would have them done according to his divine plan for creation. God wishes us, according to his word in the Scriptures, to be his adopted children, literally the daughters and the sons of the Divine Family of Father, Son and Spirit. And this will happen only when we acknowledge him as the way, the truth and the life and then try and follow his will. The closer we come to doing this, the more joyful we will become. When our cup overflows with contentment, we know we are following his way, for it is then and only then that we have the joy in our hearts that we desire.
“For a child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-forever, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:5). And: “He shall judge between the nations, and impose terms on many peoples. They shall beat the swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; one nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again.” (Isaiah 2: 4).
Friday of the Fourth Week of Advent
December 23, O Emmanuel
The final O Antiphon is as follows: “O Emmanuel, king and lawgiver, desire of the nations, Savior of all people, come and set us free, Lord our God.”
Today’s O Antiphon presents us with the name given to Jesus by the Lord God Himself: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and you shall name him Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7: 14). Matthew in his Gospel quotes Isaiah: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel.”
Emmanuel means “God is with us.” That one word says it all. We should all make it our mantra for a day, repeating over and over: God is with us. Maybe if I did that, it would sink in! It would be difficult to have these words on my lips and at the same time continue to do things my own way and goof it all up. The various Saints, after they went through the various mickey-mouse stages of their lives, managed to keep this truth of the presence of God in their focus, their consciousness.
St. Francis of Assisi had a beautiful and simple prayer to help him with this. It is called “The Prayer before the Crucifix.” Let us pray with Francis:
Enlighten the darkness of my heart
And give me
And perfect charity,
Sense and knowledge,
That I may carry out
Your holy and true command.
This prayer once again asks Jesus, the Light of the world, to enlighten the darkness of our hearts, a theme we have talked about before; to lead us from our ignorance of his way, truth and life. It is only through this that we will be saved.
Jesus, come and make visible your creative love for all people.
Saturday of the Last Week of Advent
Dec. 24, Christmas Eve
The O Antiphons have now come to an end. Now the time we have been waiting for has come. We need wait no longer. The time of expectation has become a reality. I love the way this coming of Jesus, the Messiah, the Anointed One, is described in the Book of Wisdom (18: 14-16): “When peaceful stillness compassed everything and the night in its swift course was half spent, Your all-powerful word from heaven’s royal throne bounded….And as he alighted, …. he still reached to heaven, while he stood upon the earth.”
Jesus, Our Redeemer, didn’t just walk or run to come to us – he bounded. Bounded is like when you go toward something with such force and enthusiasm that you almost break your neck getting there. If we could only want him as badly as he wanted to come to us! If only we could bound toward him. If only we could go to Jesus in leaps and bounds, spring to him with all the enthusiasm within us!
O Come to us, be with us now, our Lord Emmanuel!