The seven Great ‘O’ Antiphons of Advent are sung before the Magnificat at Vespers during the seven days prior to Christmas. They are seven words or phrases, mostly in Latin, which look forward to the coming of the Messiah. They have been prayed by the Church since, at least, the 8th century. Today Bishop Earl Boyea reflects upon the sixth “O” Antiphon: O Rex Gentium (O King of the Nations). Here is what he says:
On December 22, we have the sixth antiphon: “O King of the nations, the only joy of every human heart; O Keystone of the mighty arch of man, come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust.”
Now we are clearly reaching beyond Israel. This Messiah is to be king of all nations. Isaiah sees God as ruling over all: “He shall judge between the nations, and set terms for many peoples…. One nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again” (Isaiah 2:4). Or again, “His dominion is vast and forever peaceful” (Isaiah 9:6). In a time of war and pressure from Assyria and Egypt, Isaiah looked to this ideal king who would govern not just his small country but all the great powers as well.
This Messiah will have to be powerful to achieve this end. And thus, the image of the cornerstone is presented. Even as Isaiah proclaimed: “See, I am laying a cornerstone in Zion, a stone that has been tested, a precious cornerstone as a sure foundation; whoever puts faith in it will not waver” (Isaiah 28:16). This laying of the cornerstone will not be easy, as we see in Psalm 118: “The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. By the Lord has this been done; it is wonderful in our eyes” (vv. 22-23). Jesus, facing his opponents, applied this text about the rejected stone to himself (Matthew 21:42).
Isaiah has another reference which helps us with this day’s antiphon. After acknowledging that we are all sinners, Isaiah makes this plea: “Yet, Lord, you are our father; we are the clay and you our potter; we are all the work of your hand” (Isaiah 64:7). God made us. We know that he loves us. Let us allow him to make us anew.
Sisters and brothers, we want and need this cornerstone, we who are made from the mud of the earth, who bear the very breath of God (Genesis 2:7). Jesus came to share that condition of our dust but in addition he breathed a new life into us, the very breath of the Holy Spirit. May we deeply breathe in that holy grace.