image by Barbara Barnes
reflection by Pat MayPsalms 40, 54, and 51 Isaiah 10: 5-19 2 Peter 2: 17-22 Matthew 11: 2-15
On December 21, the Church remembers St. Thomas, the apostle famously known as “Doubting Thomas” for his refusal to believe in Jesus’ resurrection until he had placed his fingers in the nail marks and felt the mark of the wound made by the spear. St. Thomas’s feast day is situated in the week of the “O” Antiphons. These seven prayers have been sung or recited since the seventh century during the final days of Advent in evening prayer.
Each antiphonal prayer begins with “O” and then includes a biblical name and ends with a call to come:
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.
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.
O Flower of Jesse’s stem, you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples; rulers stand silent in your presence; the nations bow down in worship before you. Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid.
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.
O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: Come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.
O Ruler of all nations, the only joy of every human heart, O keystone of the mighty arch of humankind: Come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust.
O Emmanuel, ruler and lawgiver, desire of the nations, savior of all people: Come and set us free, Lord our God.
These prayers remind us of the greatness of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and his glorious power. They serve to encourage us in moments of doubt, much like Thomas experienced, and they aid us in stoking the fire within for a longing that the Lord would return. With tragedies such as Newtown, Aurora, Ft. Hood, Blacksburg, Columbine, and sadly, many more, it seems almost natural to doubt the greatness and goodness of God, but Jesus would remind us:
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” (John 14: 1-3)
During these last days of Advent, and especially in the shadow of Newtown, I am encouraged by the words of our Savior. My prayer is that we will accept the promise that Jesus has prepared a place for us to be with him, and we will therefore open our hearts and be ready to receive him afresh. Allow the “O” antiphons to serve you in your prayers these next few days and sense the peace that will come as we celebrate the birth of our Lord—the One who gives peace that the world cannot give. Maybe our doubts can be eroded by faith and like Thomas we can declare, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20: 28)