Waiting for the Lord

As Jeff Marlett commented last week on this page, now is an opportune time for Christians to draw again to the well of Christ; who is our spiritual drink in the desert of this world. One of the beauties of the liturgical calendar, in this regard, is that its regularity and cyclical nature points us continuously back to the mysteries of the faith. Amid natural, social, and political disturbances, the calendar always reminds of the unchanging and eternal nature of God. And that this God does not forsake us to the seemingly haphazard and tumultuous events of history. Rather, He entered human history in order to sanctify it, to draw us into communion with Himself and, thereby, with each other.

Channeling the beginning of Dr. Marlett’s last post, then, I would state: “in case you missed it,” we’ve begun a new liturgical year! The first Sunday of Advent marks the start of every liturgical year and, perhaps now in a most needed way, directs us to anticipate the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. By commemorating the anticipation of his arrival, we are reliving the history of our spiritual forefathers and foremothers, i.e., ancient Israel. In many and various ways, the liturgical celebrations of the Church remind us of this communion we have with ancient Israel. Just as they longed for the coming of the Messiah, so too do we anticipate his return. And not only us but, as St. Paul vividly and strikingly phrases it, “the whole of creation has been groaning with labor pains together” (Rom 8:22) in anticipation of redemption.

adventA key word which is often used in the study of liturgy is anamnesis. While this word literally means “remembering,” in a liturgical context it does not simply mean this. In Christian worship, anamnesis refers to “making the past a present and lived reality by remembering.” One way that we Catholics do this during Advent is by reciting – ideally, chanting – the “O Antiphons.”

The “O Antiphons” are those antiphons sung for the Magnificat during vespers between December 17th and 23rd. They all petition the coming of the Lord using a foreshadowed title for Christ found in the Hebrew Scriptures. Though these titles appear scattered throughout the OT, they can also all be found somewhere is the book of Isaiah. For example, the “O Antiphon” for December 17th asks: “O Wisdom of our God Most High, guiding creation with power and love: come to teach us the path of knowledge” (cf. Is 11:2; 28:29; Wis 8:1; Sir 24:3). Here is the beginning of each “O Antiphon”:

December 17: O Sapientia (O Wisdom)

December 18: O Adonai (O Lord)

December 19: O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse)

December 20: O Clavis David (O Key of David)

December 21: O Oriens (O Dawn)

December 22: O Rex Gentium (O King of the Nations)

December 23: O Emmanuel (O God with Us)

Significantly, when the first letter of title is taken in reverse order it spells out E-R-O-C-R-A-S. In Latin, ero cras translates as: “I will be [there] tomorrow.” Thus, like the disciples before Pentecost (Lk 24:49), we await the fulfillment of the promise of the Lord.

By reciting the “O Antiphons” we make ancient Israel’s anticipation of the arrival of the Savior our own. With them we pray: Maranatha, “Come, Lord” (1 Cor 16:22). And like them, as today’s Gospel reading reminds us, we should be prepared for his arrival. “Therefore you also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Mt 24:44).

Anthony Coleman teaches theology for the Saint Joseph’s College Online Theology Program.

The Gift of Waiting

advent3Now, in this holy season of Advent, the time spent waiting and preparing grows shorter.  But waiting is never easy.  Ask any child or the child in any of us for that matter.  Sometimes the waiting can make us desire the object of our waiting more and even sharpen our focus on that which is the object of our interest and affection.  We all know the adage “Absence makes the heart grow fonder”.  That compulsive aspect of waiting can prompt some to try to distract their attention by shifting the focus to something else.  Filling that emptiness with activity and distraction is likely something we’ve all done.  While that strategy may help pass the time, I’m not so sure that it’s the best use of our time and that gift.  In terms of our spiritual journey, my personal opinion is that the time of waiting is a gift, a grace that should be embraced as an opportunity to experience the longing for God.  The experience of that utter absence sets the stage for our ability to clear the space in our hearts and lives and know so deeply that that space was always meant for him to fill.  Realizing that this longing for God was the greatest gift that God could give me prompted me to pen these words many years ago.  I prayerfully return to them every Advent and I pass them on to you in the hope that they may resonate in your Advent prayer.

When did His favor

first come to rest upon her?

She ponders beginnings-

her memory cannot conjure the time,

the moment,

or extend her remembrance

into His knowing,

to that moment when His choosing

first nurtured her innocence.

She rests knowing

her response was always

His gift first-

that He prepared her in secret

and love her

before her remembering-

that His humility conceived

her freedom.


This poem first appeared in Review for Religious (Nov./Dec.1988)


Susan O’Hara teaches theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online.