Today the Church Universal begins praying the seven great “O” Antiphons of Advent. What are these? The “O” Antiphons are prayers 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. Each begins with “O”. They have been prayed by the Church since, at least, the 8th century. Today Bishop Earl Boyea reflects upon the first “O” Antiphon: O Sapientia (O Wisdom). Here is what he says:
The first antiphon, which we use on December 17th, reads: “O Wisdom, O holy Word of God, you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care. Come and show your people the way to salvation.”
Now Isaiah, no doubt disappointed in the reigning Kings in Judah, had predicted a future Messiah King: “The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the Lord, and his delight shall be the fear of the Lord” (Isaiah 11:2-3). Jesus is, of course, this Word of God, the word which comes from the mouth of the Most High.
The difference is that Jesus not only has the spirit-filled gift of wisdom. He is Wisdom, the wisdom of the Father. Thus, at his Baptism in the Jordan, when the Spirit came upon him, the Father cried out, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). Jesus is the Father’s very own wisdom.
The Book of Sirach is filled with praise of divine wisdom. The author says: “From the mouth of the Most High I came forth and covered the earth like a mist” (Sirach 24:3). When this wisdom sought a place to dwell, we read, “Then the Creator of all gave me his command, and my Creator chose the spot for my tent. He said, ‘In Jacob make your dwelling’” (Sirach 24:8).
Yes, this incarnate wisdom of God did come to dwell in Israel as one of us. He, the Word made flesh, came for two reasons. He has, from all eternity, wisely governed all things well. In addition, he has come among us, with much wise counsel, to show us the way on which we should walk.
Sisters and brothers, as we prepare for the birth of the Lord, let us be open to the richness of the wisdom of God which he wants to pour into our hearts. Jesus is himself that wisdom. May Jesus teach us how to govern our lives with appropriate discipline. May he also show us the path we must take to return to our Heavenly Father.
* First broadcast December 2020.