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.
Today is the second O Antiphon, the O Adonai, or Lord antiphon. In the Hebrew Scriptures this is the term (Adonai) used to refer to God as a sign of reverence and respect, avoiding the speaking of the tetragrammaton (YHWH). The connection between the coming of the Messiah and the history of the Lord’s relationship with Israel is close indeed. As God revealed God’s self to Moses in the great theophany of the burning bush, so God’s people await the unveiling of God (the revelation of God) in the greatest of all theophanies: God’s entering the world as one of us.
Before the birth of Jesus, the revealing of God took place in reserved ways, through a burning bush, through a quiet whisper, through a messenger. In the birth of a tiny, defenseless, poor, human baby, God revealed God’s self in the fullest, most decisive and complete way possible. What was hinted at in the encounter of Moses with the Lord on Sinai was made complete in the birth of this child.
The imagery within this particular antiphon is striking on many levels. In addition to the fulfillment of God’s revealing of God’s self to us in the most complete way, there is also the sense in which the antiphon appropriates the image of God’s Trinitarian role in salvation history that was made famous by St. Irenaeus. The early Church Father described the action of God in the economy (meaning the world, not wall street) through the Son and in the Spirit as like the two ‘hands of God’ that reach out of God and beyond God to create, embrace and return all of creation back to God.
That the birth of the Savior, the Son, would be envisioned as the act of God’s stretched-out hand is beautiful.
The last part of the antiphon, the notion of being set free comes with the act of the Incarnation, all of these elements are coextensively tied together. It is through the Incarnation that God unites “heaven and earth” (as the liturgy proclaims) and all that is broken is made right for God wished to reconcile all things to God’s self (as St. Paul teaches us). While the focus of many Christians tends to be on Good Friday and perhaps Easter, particularly after Mel Gibson’s idiosyncratic depiction of Holy Week, the act of the Incarnation is the greatest sign of God’s own intention to be with us, like one of us. While the death and resurrection of the Lord is indeed redemptive, let us not forget the life that was the condition for the possibility of the passion and the good news of Easter morning.
May we be a people that recognizes God’s salvation — the bringing of all creation back to God — coming to birth in the world in the birth of the Son.