Archive for the Advent Category

O Come Emmanuel: Everyday Incarnation

Posted in Advent, O Antiphons, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on December 23, 2015 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

incarnationO Emmanuel, king and lawgiver, desire of the nations, savior of all people, come and set us free, Lord our God.

There is only one Incarnation, but there are infinite signs of emmanuel.

I am struck today by the text from Isaiah that is the source for this antiphon: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign; the young woman, pregnant and about to bear a son, shall name him Emmanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). The name of the coming Lord was foretold, but it wasn’t a proper name so much as a description of what God was about to do and what God has intended from all eternity.

The pregnant young woman, Mary of Nazareth, was a sign that fits the description of Isaiah, but she hasn’t been nor remains the only sign of emmanuel, God-with-us. If we are able to open the eyes of our hearts to see the presence of God around us, we know too can see signs of a divine love so powerful that it could not be contained simply to Godself, but must overflow into creation and in the ultimate expression of love in God’s becoming one with us.

Some years ago I wrote an article titled, “A Newborn and St. Bonaventure’s The Tree of Life as Incarnational Encounters.” In it I talked about how the experience of meeting and holding my godson, the firstborn of my two best friends from college, had been for me an experience of the Incarnation, of emmanuel. I saw reflected in the preciousness of this new life the reality of a mystery beyond words, a mystery that lies deep within each of us in the very contingent existence we experience. We didn’t have to be. Nothing did. Yet, God loved each of us and all of creation into existence.

In addition to experiencing the Incarnation in meeting this newborn child, I also recalled how St. Bonaventure in his treatise The Tree of Life offers a mystical reflection that would later serve as the foundation for and become popularized by Ignatian imaginative prayer and reflection. Bonaventure invites his readers to enter into the Gospel and imagine themselves there at the crib, alongside Christ, at the cross, and to experience what is being experienced in particular moments of God’s history with us as one like us.

Bonaventure’s reflections on the nativity are particularly striking for their vividness and beauty. His is a guided meditation: “Do not now turn away from the brilliance of that star in the east which guides you. Become a companion of the holy kings… adore, confess and praise this humble God lying in a manger.” He then invites us to “embrace that divine manger; press your lips upon and kiss the boy’s feet.” To kiss the newborn baby’s feet like parents admiring the new life they’ve co-created is something that has always stayed with me. It is real and lovely and far-less-abstract than talking about “keeping ‘Christ’ in Christmas.”

This sort of reflection helps me to think about the everyday experiences –- like new parents with their child or the love between partners or the beauty of creation –- that helps reveal and remind us of emmanuel. Christmas then is not simply a once-a-year time for presence and songs and “keeping ‘Christ’ in Christmas,” but is the starkest reminder of how Christ is already in Christmas and the day after Christmas and the day after that!

How better could we celebrate what we believe about the Incarnation than shifting our awareness to the presence of God-with-us still? May this Christmas be the beginning of putting “Christ” back in the “everyday!” And may we all bear witness to the infinite signs of presence and coming of Emmanuel.

Photo: Stock
Originally published in 2013

O Radiant Dawn: The Circle of Life

Posted in Advent, O Antiphons, Uncategorized with tags , , , on December 21, 2015 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

earthsunriseO Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: Come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

The catchiness of Disney’s The Lion King‘s opening song notwithstanding, I’m thinking of a circle of life having to do with a little more substance in light of today’s antiphon: “O Radiant Dawn, Splendor of Eternal Light.” Light itself is the source of life, at least that’s the case in this world. Without our Sun, there would be no life nor would there be an ecosystem capable of sustaining the life that finds its origins in that gaseous star closest to us. Each dawn marks the cycle, the circle, of light and darkness, of life and death, that completes the circle of life on this planet: Photosynthesis, consumption, decomposition, metabolization, regrowth, and so on.

Like all other living creatures — human and nonhuman alike — we are dependent on light to live. But like the bread about which Jesus speaks in the Gospel, we do not live on planetary light alone!

There is another light that dispels the darkness of death, a light that shows the way to go, a light that brings another kind of life. This is Christ the Light, the God of Light. What is interesting about what constitutes the Radiant Dawn, the Light of Life, is that this light is also the sun of justice. The life that Jesus Christ came to bring, that life that he desires us to have and live to the fullest, is a life of justice and peace. It is a life that is perhaps best reflected in the words and actions of Pope Francis when he calls our attention to the plight of the poor and downtrodden, the marginalized and forgotten, the voiceless and those thrown away.

The circle of life calls us to move in a direction away from the darkness of the night brought about by injustice and abuse, suffering and subjugation, to recognize that only in addressing these sins — individually and socially — can we begin to live in the light toward which we are called. This is why we celebrate Christmas. This is why we celebrate what the Hebrew Prophets and John the Baptist foretold. This is what it means to call ourselves Christians.

The imagery of light is used frequently throughout the Gospels to describe what it means to announce the Kingdom of God. We are called to reflect that light, which comes from the sun of justice, such that we can shine God’s love, mercy, forgiveness, and good news on others. We don’t do this with empty words and vapid platitudes, but with our feet and our hands and our actions.

Today’s antiphon includes a petition on our behalf: “Come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death,” but it implies a response that we might not want to hear — a response, I believe, that most of us usually ignore.

The response as laid out in Scripture and modeled by the holy lives of saints and women and men of good will over the centuries is that the light of justice only shines when we are willing to be bearers of that light. Christ is not a helicopter savior who pops down miraculously here and there to help this or that person. Christ is the fullest revelation of who God is and simultaneously reveals to us who we are. We are the bearers of that light, we are those whose lives are nourished and sustained by the sun of justice, we are the ones who must do something.

Photo: Stock
Originally published in 2013

Preaching at All Saints Church in Pasadena

Posted in Advent, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on December 20, 2015 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Screen Shot 2015-12-20 at 3.40.02 PMThis is the written text from the guest homily I preached at All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, CA, on Sunday December 20, 2015. Below you can watch a video of the sermon preached.

“We live in the time of no room, which is the time of the end. The time when everyone is obsessed with lack of time, lack of space, with saving time, conquering space, projecting into time and space the anguish produced within them by the technological furies of size, volume, quantity, speed, number, price, power and acceleration. The primordial blessing, ‘increase and multiply,’ has suddenly become a hemorrhage of terror. We are numbered in billions, and massed together, marshaled, numbered, marched here and there, taxed, drilled, armed, worked to the point of insensibility, dazed by information, drugged by entertainment, surfeited with everything, nauseated with the human race and with ourselves, nauseated with life.”[1]

These are the words of the great spiritual writer and Trappist Monk, Thomas Merton, in an essay he wrote on Christmas. His words reflect for me the chaos and confusion that typically accompanies this time of year, especially the last week of Advent.

The pressures of the season, the social demands of our work and families, the overwhelming reality of so much that must be done and, ostensibly, so little time to do it, we find ourselves not in the midst of the season of joyful hope, of great anticipation, but rather in the midst of the chaos of our lives.

There’s always one more gift to buy, one more cookie to decorate, one more activity that we have neither the strength nor the stomach to face. Indeed, as Merton says, this time is a time of no time, a time of the end.

When we find ourselves in such a state, harried and hurried, exhausted and seeking excuse, we have left no energy to contemplate the mystery that calls us forth, we have – as Merton says – no space; no space to consider who it is that is this mystery that calls us forth. And this, I believe leads us to a crisis of identity.

The identity crisis is not immediately our own, although that surely follows. The identity crisis about which I’m speaking has to do with God. Or, better yet, it has to do with our inability to remember who God is (which, as Merton wisely reminds us elsewhere, means that we are then unable to truly know ourselves).

When we find ourselves in the time of no room, the time of no time, the time of no space, confusion sets in that leads us to forget the difference between what St. Paul in the First Letter to the Corinthians calls the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of God, to forget the difference between the proliferation of opinion and the truth of divine revelation.

To put it technically, what troubles me is that we have forgotten the difference between what the ancient Greeks called doxography and the doxology we are called to profess in faith. Let me explain… Doxography is the term used to refer to the act of referencing preceding opinions, to either affirm or refute them in a philosophical argument. Doxology, on the other hand, is the prayerful expression of the church in praise of God the Creator.

It seems to me that one of the more common problems in our modern, American culture, if I can put it so simplistically, is that today everything seems to have been reduced to an opinion. As a result, people find it easy to dismiss one another with lines like, “well, that’s just your opinion.”

All views, factual or otherwise, are treated as if they were merely differing perspectives and this has sadly bled over into our experience of Christianity and our vision of God.

No longer does sacred scripture necessarily unsettle us with the challenge of right living as presented to us in the biblical covenant and the Gospel proclamation. Instead, like the insecure and self-conscious representatives of the human family in the garden of Eden, we reject what God has assured us is sufficient and good – very good, in fact – and instead set out to cast our own images to worship. Though God created us in God’s image and likeness, out of fear and anxiety we return the favor creating gods in our own image and likeness, according to our own comforts and preferences.

This is how God can be associated with the violence that exists around the world and, as Merton and others remind us, so often even in our own hearts. This idol, the god we create in our own image and likeness is a god who, “helps those who help themselves;”… Is a god who, “blesses America, and yet seemingly disregards the majority of the world’s population;”… Is a god who, “can be on the lips and written in the tweets of lawmakers who ‘pray for victims of gun violence,’ yet deny any responsibility for the conditions that make such tragedies possible, who fill their campaign coffers with funds from the industry that promotes the sale of guns at all costs.”

This is the god of doxography, the god of our opinions, the god of comfort and familiarity, the god of convenience, and this god exists because the one, true God – the God of Jesus Christ – is unwittingly dismissed by so many because the God who is revealed to us doesn’t always fit our agenda or outlook.

What we hear in the Magnificat, that great hymn of Mary proclaimed as our first lesson this morning, is true doxology, the glorification of the true God.

The God Mary praises is the God who brings good news to the poor and suffering, yet dismisses the rich and powerful.

The God Mary praises is the God who raises the lowly and weak, yet deposes the mighty and the proud.

The God Mary praises is the God who has, as we read in the Book of Exodus in that great theophany to Moses, been there for our ancestors, is there for us now, and will be there for us into the future.

The God Mary praises is the God of Jesus Christ, the Creator whose true identity is love and mercy.

Whether consciously or not, this God Mary praises is too often pushed aside and dismissed in our time – the time of no time, the time of the end. In addition to the truth that God not only disapproves of the power and politics of acquisition and individual comfort over the collective needs of the common good, God actually favors and sides with the poor, the abused, the marginalized, the victims, and those treated unjustly.

The God Mary praises is the God who takes the side of the unwed, pregnant teenager, who nevertheless rejoices in her distress, in her anxiety, in the fear that must have overtaken her, because she recognizes that God has done great things for her, and the love and mercy of the Almighty will prevail.

The moral theologian Stanley Hauerwas has written about the stories we tell ourselves and the gods we construct, especially in the United States. And he reminds the church that, “Christians do not believe we get to choose our story, but rather we discover that God has called us to participate in a story not of our own making. That is why we are called into the church as well as why we are called, “Christian.” A church so formed cannot help but be a challenge to a social order built on the contrary presumption that I get to make my life up.”

Mary understood this, finding herself in a desperate set of circumstances, faced with what seems like an impossible task, she recalls in her song of praise the history of salvation that has unfolded. She remembers the narrative of faith into which she has been incorporated. And She proclaims the truth of the story not of her making, but the true story of who God is and who we are.

In addition to the reminder of who God really is, today our lessons from scripture also unveil another frequently overlooked dimension of our story. That is the centrality and importance of women in the history of salvation.

Some communities have become better than others at remembering this, but we see in the Gospel proclamation a subtle reminder of the patriarchy that was both pervasive in the culture of Mary’s time and yet remains all-too-present in our own.

Mary’s own recognition of her so-called lowliness, her littleness and vulnerability reiterates the dire conditions of her reality. To whom could she turn? Who would come to her aid?

As my colleague John Martens, the scripture columnist at America Magazine, recently wrote, “Women knew the reality of childbirth and the vulnerability of womanhood, so Mary does not run to priests, scribes or scholars, to tell of her encounter with God but to her relative Elizabeth.”

Furthermore, John reminds us that, “God came into the world as an infant; and the Incarnation was entrusted to women, who would not only bring the child to us but care for him among us. They were willing to see and embrace the smallness of us all in light of God’s mighty work. They were open to the love necessary and due to any child and open to God’s saving power in their midst. The Messiah was entrusted to the natural processes of human life, in the most vulnerable of hands, in the most vulnerable of ways, so that God’s glory and salvation would not overwhelm us, but accompany us in solidarity with the suffering of all of us small and little people, in order to teach us the value of human life and the greatness of each of life. By each of her actions, Mary is telling us: Prepare to adore him.”

But a world in which women are still forced into positions of lowliness in the forms of subjugation, human trafficking, sexual abuse, among so many other crimes against humanity, it is difficult to heed Mary’s call to adore the coming Prince of Peace.

Indeed, even in our own society, the United States of America, which despite its numerous doxographical gods, dares to imagine itself as a “Christian nation,” still disadvantages women in systemic and institutional ways. One need only look at the wage gap that persists, where on average women make 79 cents on the dollar when compared to men in the same position.

In these last days of the our season of anticipation, may we examine ourselves, examine our faith, examine our hearts to see who it is we are celebrating this Friday. Is the God we worship the god of our own making, the god who endorses the story of our own choosing? Or is the God we worship the God who reveals God’s Self to us in the song of Mary and in the truth of divine revelation, the God who identifies with the weak and the lost, the voiceless and the oppressed throughout history?

If, indeed, we have the courage enough to embrace the God of Jesus Christ, who then must we think about this Christmas and in the days that follow?

I believe that Merton offers us a glimpse at this question’s answer in his essay, observing that, “Into this world, this demented inn, in which there is absolutely no room for Him at all, Christ has come uninvited. But because He cannot be at home in it, because He is out of place in it, and yet He must be in it, His place is with those others for whom there is no room. His place is with those who do not belong, who are rejected by power because they are regarded as weak, those who are discredited, who are denied the status of persons, tortured, exterminated. With those for whom there is no room, Christ is present in this world. He is mysteriously present in those for whom there seems to be nothing but the world at its worst. For them, there is no escape even in imagination.”[2]

            [1] Merton, “The Time of the End is the Time of No Room,” Raids on the Unspeakable.

            [2] Merton, “The Time of the End is the Time of No Room,” Raids on the Unspeakable.

O Key of David: Unlocking Life, Freedom, and Light

Posted in Advent, O Antiphons with tags , , , , , on December 20, 2015 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

keyring and keysO 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.

There are many terms and images we use and invoke to describe Christ. There is emmanuel, God-with-us; there is the Son of Man; there is the Incarnate Word; there is The Lord.  But how often do we pause and reflect on the coming of the Christ, the Messiah, and think: “Key of David.” In Latin the word clavis is literally a key that one might use to unlock a door. It connotes, like today’s O Antiphon names, a “power” that “controls” a passageway, a gate. But what might it mean for us to think about the coming of the Lord, the Advent of God in terms of a key?

I wonder if it isn’t one of the more appropriately literal images among the varied antiphonal terms. Unlike the Eastern Sun or Morning Star of tomorrow, or the Root of Jesse earlier this week, the key (clavis) has a singular and clear purpose: locking or unlocking something. While the other images lend themselves to a broader interpretation and metaphorical application, the Key of David begs to be seen for what it is — odd.

It’s odd to think about the Word-Made-Flesh as a key, but the second part of today’s antiphon points to what sort of locking and unlocking the Christ provides: Life and Death, Freedom and Captivity, Light and Darkness.

I get the feeling that so much of our world is conditioned by an attitude of death, captivity, and darkness. It can be difficult amid real suffering and pain, true injustice and abuse, to see life, freedom, and light in this life. Yet, the Key of David has entered the world to unlock this reality, the reality that Jesus of Nazareth called the Reign of God (Basileia tou Theou). And it is the reality that God has called each of us to announce and unlock as well (“Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will Be Done…”).

Whereas the Christ, the Key of David, comes to unlock those who need life, freedom, and light (“I have come to proclaim good news to the poor…”), we are also keys of a sort. However, we can turn ourselves far too often into gates that exclude and divide, that bring darkness and captivity. Perhaps we are not acting in such a way as to lock others out or cast a shadow of darkness or death over others, but when we aren’t walking, acting, and unlocking the Kingdom of God in the footprints of Jesus Christ, what other option is there?

Today’s antiphon has me thinking about the ways that we respond to the daily choices to lock or unlock, to work toward freedom or enclose others in captivity, and to reflect the light of God in the world or contribute to casting a shadow of darkness. The choice is ours, we are the key.

Photo: Stock
Originally Published in 2013

O Root of Jesse: The New Family of Christ

Posted in Advent, O Antiphons, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on December 19, 2015 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Family_Portrait_O Root of Jesse, you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples; kings stand silent in your presence; the nations bow down in worship before you. Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid.

My maternal grandfather was a big fan of genealogical research. I remember being a boy and going with him and my grandmother to libraries all over Central New York where he would read through hundreds of old newspapers on large microfilm machines, looking at obituaries and news articles for information about this or that person or potential relation. When he finally got a computer, one of the first programs he installed was family tree software and my brothers, my cousins, and I would often serve as his tech-advisors. While I loved that he loved this hobby so much and I learned a lot from it, family trees and genealogical research never interested me in themselves. What I loved was spending time with my grandparents and, as my work and ministry in academia has since reflected back to me, I think I loved being in the library and the process of research.

Such has been the case with the genealogies at the beginning of both Matthews’s and Luke’s Gospels — I find them to be rather boring, at least on the surface. Their points, although emphasized differently, are understandable and I don’t begrudge the evangelical redactors for the inclusion of these family lines, but I think I’ve always been much more interested in what follows in the Gospels about Jesus’s family than what opens them respectively.

No offense to Micah and Isaiah, who prophesied that the Messiah would come from the lineage of King David, the son of Jesse. But Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection establish a new family, one that transcends these earthly limitations and linear structures. And the new family of Christ helps to redefine how we understand the human family and the kinship of Christianity.

We begin to see this, for example, in the Gospel of Matthew when Jesus has this famous encounter:

While he was still speaking to the crowds, his mother and his brothers were standing outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, “Look, your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.” But to the one who had told him this, Jesus replied, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Matt 12:46-50).

The key is not the blood or biological or genealogical relationship, but the relationship established by doing the Will of God, which announces the in-breaking of the Kingdom of Heaven, the Reign of God.

We also get a glimpse of this new vision of family when Jesus, dying on the Cross, turns to his friend and to his mother and confirms another form of familiar relationship, a community of faith that stands for support, love, care, challenge, and embrace.

The Body of Christ, which is the church, is the new family of Christ, the lineage and inheritance of the Root of Jesse. It is not so much from whom you came as much as for whom you live! Are we part of this family tree? Do we do the will of God? Do we announce the in-breaking of the Kingdom?

Photo: Stock
Originally published in 2013

O Holy Lord: The God Who Hears Our Cries

Posted in Advent, O Antiphons with tags , , , , , , , on December 18, 2015 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

bt-sufferingO 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’s O Antiphon invokes the Lord (Adonai), the God of Israel, who appears to Moses and reveals God’s own identity to the prophet in a direct and personal way. When many people think of the identity of the God who reveals Godself to Moses in the burning bush on Sinai, they think of the line from Exodus 3:14 “God said to Moses, ‘I am Who I Am.'” At this point it seems sufficient to accept this as the name of God. But the theophany continues; the name of God has not yet been fully revealed.

If we keep reading, we note that God explains further:

God also said to Moses: ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites,
“The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you”:
This is my name forever,
and this is my title for all generations (Exodus 3:15).

Rather than the Western, Greek, philosophical “I am,” what Thomas Aquinas will theologize as God’s interchangeable name and identity (esse = “being”), we see that God explains God’s own identity in relational terms. God is the one who has been there for all of Moses’s ancestors, for all times, for all generations. Who God is can only be understood in terms of for whom God is. And like for Moses, God is the Lord (Adonai) who is there for us!

But it doesn’t stop there. The identity of the Lord, Adonai, who reveled Godself to Moses in the burning bush explains that in addition to having been and always being there for Moses and his fellow Israelites, God explains that the Lord hears the cries of the poor (Ps 34). The next two lines of the Book of Exodus (vv 16-17) convey this when God explains to Moses that the suffering of the enslaved Israelites has not gone unnoticed by the Lord.

“I have given heed to you and what has been done to you in Egypt. I declare that I will bring you up out of the misery of Egypt,” God explains.

Last year, I listened to the weekly New Yorker podcast after I began reading James Carroll’s lead article this week on Pope Francis. The former priest and best-selling author, Carroll, participated in a conversation about the pope who is making such an impression on the world stage. In passing Carroll, who defended the idea that Pope Francis’s so-called “symbolic actions” are in fact much more significant than the demeaning qualifier symbolic means to suggest, made the point that our whole faith as Christians (and this is true for our Jewish sisters and brothers) is not centered on a God who first sees sin. Rather, our God is a God who hears the cry of the poor and first recognizes our suffering.

As we get closer to the Solemnity of the Incarnation at Christmas, we should take close note of this truth as it appears to us in Scripture. Far too often people hold the “Mel Gibson” approach to Christmas, projecting the suffering of the Passion onto the Birth of the Lord — Jesus entered this world because we had to be “saved” from sin.

No. The Word Became Flesh because God loves us and wants to draw near to us (the relational “God of your Fathers” has sent you…) and hears our cries of lament, of suffering, of injustice, of pain, of loss, and of the experience of sin.

Yes, through the Incarnation we have indeed been redeemed, but our sin is not what God first sees. The suffering of individuals and communities is what God first sees!

We know this because Jesus proclaims this at the beginning of his public ministry, reading from and fulfilling the oracle of the Prophet Isaiah:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives,
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s Favor
 (Luke 4:18-19).

Nowhere does the Lord say, “I have come because you have screwed up.” Nowhere does the Lord say, “Your sin is what I’m most concerned with.” Nowhere does the Lord say, “O happy fault!”

Instead, the Lord, the one who reveals Godself to Moses on Sinai in the burning bush, comes because of divine love and in response to the suffering of those in the world. Our task, our call as Christians, is to do what Pope Francis has been reminding us to do and what Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, demonstrated with his life, death, and resurrection.

We need to become more God-like, become like the Lord who hears the cry of the poor, responds to the suffering in the world, and draws near to announce the good news that we’re going to do something about it!

Photo: Stock
This post was originally published in 2013

O Wisdom: The Christocentricity of Creation

Posted in Advent, O Antiphons with tags , , , , , , on December 17, 2015 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

creation_redemption_carmichael-braun_cropO 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.

It is that time of year again and I can hardly believe it. December Seventeenth ushers in the beginning of the “O Antiphons.” These last seven days of the Advent season are marked by the seven antiphons prayed before the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) in the Church’s Liturgy of the Hours at evening prayer (vespers). These short snippets of prayerful anticipation and prophecy continue to be something I look forward to every winter as we call to mind, live out and anticipate the coming of the Lord. As has been my tradition each Advent in recent years, I offer a short reflection each day.

Typically, when considering the governing of creation, it is the Holy Spirit that comes to mind. One thinks of the ruah of God bringing order to the tohuwabohu (the cosmic “chaos”) of the first creation account in Genesis or the ruah of God that is the breath of life given to both humanity and all creation in the second account. Yet, today’s Marian antiphon focuses on the wisdom and word of God. These terms are, like the spirit or ruah mentioned above, symbols of Divine Immanence traced back to the Hebrew Scriptures and adopted to refer to Christ after the Incarnation.

But that’s what makes the antiphon somewhat odd, at least at first glance — Isn’t it the spirit that governs creation? Isn’t it the spirit that leads all of creation back to God, what we more casually call salvation? What does the word, the dabar, the logos have to do with that?

Perhaps this is an opportunity to consider what Irenaeus of Lyons talks about in his Trinitarian theology when he discusses the spirit and the word as the “two hands of God” (Adversus Haereses 5.17.4). For Irenaeus, drawing on Scripture, creation is always the act of the Triune God. To assert this necessarily requires explication about the role of the Second and Third personae of the Trinity: Son and Spirit. In other words, you cannot talk about creation without, at the same time, somehow talking about all three personae of the Trinity. Irenaeus’s reflection on the Son’s (word/logos/dabar) action in the act of Creation plays what we might call a cardinal role and strongly echoes today’s O Antiphon:

For the Creator of the world is truly the Word of God: and this is our Lord, who in the last times was made human, existing in this world, and who in an invisible manner contains all things created, and is inherent in the entire creation, since the Word of God governs and arranges all things; and therefore He came to His own in a visible manner, and was made flesh, and hung upon the tree, that He might sum up all things in Himself (AH 5.18.3).

This is not a novel concept, for the famous Christological hymn in the Letter to the Colossaians proclaims this Christocentricity of Creation and Salvation, the exitus and reditus of God’s Divine Action.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers — all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace throughout he blood of his cross (Colossians 1:15-20).

While Irenaeus presents this reflection on the role of Christ at the center of creation and the creative act of God in a clear and Trinitarian frame, it carries on through the Christian tradition — particularly in the medieval Franciscan school exemplified in the thought of Bonaventure and John Duns Scotus.

Today, as we begin the annual “O Antiphonal Christmas Countdown,” we are given the chance to reflect on what the coming of the Lord means not just in terms of the Incarnation and earthly life, but in the cosmic scope of God’s loving action, intention, and plan. Creation, Incarnation, and Salvation are not individual, discrete doctrines, but aspects of a richly interrelated whole that give us particular glimpses into who God is and what God desires for all creation.

Christ, the wisdom and word of God, stands at the center of creation, through him all is brought into existence and unto whom all will return to God. There is much to celebrate in these dark days of wintery Advent, for unto us a child is born — God-with-us from the beginning and until the end.

Photo: Charis Carmichael
Originally Published 2013
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