17th December and the day upon which the Advent Antiphons were traditionally incorporated into the Evening Office either side of the Magnificat. They are best known to us through the Advent hymn, “O come, O come, Emmanuel”. They become a kind of litany turning our thoughts from what has been to what is to come.
This amounts in my mind to a style of devotion that can easily be lost in these more casual Church days, when the repetition of ancient texts has lost its almost hypnotic centring of the heart on the divine plan and love for humanity. That is a great pity. These quietly sung sentences bring the person of Christ from his people’s historic longing to the point of arrival - or at least, at this point a week before the festival, to the point of the close anticipation of that arrival, with all the hope and joy with which we can endue it.
The words are freeing and peace-bringing for the one who searches the Scriptures and the world around them for meaning and direction. They speak of Wisdom, of Lordship, of the Messiah’s root in the line of King David, of the freeing of captives and the dispelling of darkness, of what legitimate desire and kingship and justice and healing can mean to those without hope.
They are accessible in different forms, but to return to the hymn with which I started, “O come, O come Emmanuel” is perhaps the easiest to assimilate them, as we think of them beginning today. It is a hymn for the next seven days as our hearts and eyes are lifted, and gives way to our carols of rejoicing on the birth of the Saviour.