Hand of God leedsacukThe ancient tradition of O Antiphons has characterised Vespers recited between December 17 and December 23, the Octave before Christmas Day.

The Bible readings for these eight days help us to meditate on the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Together, the first letters of these traditional meditations spell SARCORE, which is the reverse of the Latin phrase ero cras, which means

I shall be [with you] tomorrow.

The Bible verses of SARCORE express the following:

  1. “O Sapientia, quae ex ore altissimi…” (O Wisdom from on high…)
  2. “O Adonai et dux domus Israel…” (O Lord and leader of the house of Israel…)
  3. “O Radix Jesse qui stas in signum populorum…” (O Root of Jesse who stood as a standard of the people…)
  4. “O Clavis David et sceptrum domus…” (O Key of David and scepter of our home…)
  5. “O Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae…” (O Dayspring, splendor of eternal light…)
  6. “O Rex gentium et desideratus…” (O longed-for King of the nations…)
  7. “O Emmanuel, rex et legifer noster…” (O Emmanuel, our king and law-giver…)

The verse for December 18 directs us to the ‘A’, Adonai. My post last year looked at the principal reading, Isaiah 11:4-5:

4but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
   and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
   and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.

5Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist,
   and faithfulness the belt of his loins.

A second verse, suggested on ‘The O Antiphon’ page of Hymns and Carols of Christmas, is Isaiah 33:22:

For the Lord is our judge; the Lord is our lawgiver;
    the Lord is our king; he will save us.

Yesterday’s post explained Isaiah’s context; because of their unfaithfulness, God sent the Assyrian invasion to Judah as judgement and as a way of bringing His people back to Him.

Isaiah 33 relates the eventual defeat of the Assyrian army and their king, known for his violent acts and treacherous dealings. As Judah recovered their dependence on God for their salvation, He gave them the strength to bring down their conquerors.

As we approach Christmas, we are similarly called to turn from sin and casual faith to embrace an omnipotent, omniscient, sovereign God via Christ Jesus. Although it appears to be an outmoded attitude towards God, in that it is absent from most pulpits, Scripture provides us with eternal truths through Old Testament history. We are to learn from these events and apply their lessons to our own lives.

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary explains that Isaiah preached certainties about God’s righteousness but that he was alone in believing them. And believe them he did (emphases mine):

… he likens the holiness of God to a universal and constant fire. To Isaiah life was so penetrated by the active justice of God, that he described it as bathed in fire, as blown through with fire. Righteousness was no mere doctrine to this prophet: it was the most real thing in history; it was the presence which pervaded and explained all phenomena …

Isaiah has nothing to tell us about hell-fire, but a great deal about the pitiless justice of God in this life.

The commentary goes on to enumerate the many excuses we make for our actions, from greater events in our world to our own behaviour. Furthermore, although we face our own battles throughout life:

… we do not fight a vacuum. Let Isaiah’s vision be the complement of our own feeling. We fight in an atmosphere that affects every one of us far more powerfully than the opposing wits or wills of our fellow-men. Around us and through us, within and without as we fight, is the all-pervading righteousness of God; and it is far oftener the effects of this which we see in the falls and the changes of life than the effects of our struggle with each other, enormous though these may be. On this point there is an exact parallel between our days and the days of Isaiah.

In other words, we look for temporal means of resolving problems instead of presenting them to the Lord and asking for His grace and help. If our leaders deepened their faith in God and prayed more often, and if we were of deeper faith, our world be a much better place.

Furthermore, we would be better if, with His grace, we could rekindle the hope and repentance we experience in the Octave before Christmas and manifest it throughout the rest of the year:

Righteousness is not an occasional spark; righteousness is the atmosphere.

Matthew Henry has this analysis of a liberated Judah and our worldview today:

In times of public danger our concern should be most about our religion, and the cities of our solemnities should be dearer to us than either our strong cities or our store-cities. It is with an eye to this that God will work deliverance for Jerusalem, because it is the city of religious solemnities: let those be conscientiously kept up, as the glory of a people, and we may depend upon God to create a defence upon that glory. Two things are here promised to Jerusalem:– (1.) A well-grounded security … (2.) An unmoved stability.

His commentary has several insights, including:

We have all in God, all we need or can desire

… as protection draws allegiance, so allegiance may expect protection, and shall have it with God. By faith we take Christ for our prince and Saviour, and as such depend upon him and devote ourselves to him.

The enemies of God’s church are often disarmed and unrigged when they think they have almost gained their point.

God brought good out of evil, and not only delivered Jerusalem, but enriched it, and abundantly recompensed the losses they had sustained. Thus comfortably and well do the frights and distresses of the people of God often end.

If iniquity be taken away, we have little reason to complain of outward affliction. Son, be of good cheer thy sins are forgiven thee.

Perhaps, as did the people of Judah, we would do well to focus on the divine and less on the temporal in our lives. May Christmas make this reality all the clearer to us, not only on that great feast day but throughout our lives.