Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The "O Antiphons of Advent" - O Key; O Dayspring (Isaiah 9:1-7; Malachi 3:1-7, 16-4:5; Acts 26:1-18)

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit
Dear Redeemed by Christ:

O Key of David: Come — and rescue.
O Dayspring, O Morning Star: Come — and enlighten.

The coming of deliverance; the advent of Light. These are the themes sung in the fifth and sixth stanzas of the great Advent hymn, "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel." After offering our petition for the advent of Emmanuel, Heaven's Wisdom, Lord of Might and Branch of Jesse's Tree, we call out: "O come, Thou Key of David and do your saving work of opening and closing." "O come, Thou Dayspring from on high and do your redeeming work of driving away the darkness of death."
And on what basis can we pray these kinds of prayers set to music? Where do these words come from? How do we in the 21st century find ourselves joining the 4th century author in praying this way, with these words that seem at first glance so strange — so cryptic? And what is our assurance that we can rejoice knowing that our Lord hears our prayer set to music — and responds to it in grace and mercy and goodness?
First and foremost is the clear understanding that any prayer worth praying — spoken or sung — is worth praying only on the basis of it's faithful reflection of the Word first spoken to us and to all who will listen to the inspired Scriptures in faith. The reason "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" is one of the greatest Advent hymns is not simply that it is a singable tune that you find yourself whistling on the way home from church. That's part of it, but there are plenty of songs that have a catchy tune that don't get us any closer to heaven's door. (The theme song from Green Acres comes to mind.)
Christian hymns — or hymns that call themselves Christian — are only truly Christian if they clearly, faithfully, beautifully reflect the Word of God — the Word of Holy Scripture and Christ's redemptive center through his substitutionary sacrifice in our place. It's not just a matter of counting how many times the hymn uses the name Jesus. Can a hymn pass the "salvation by grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone" test? Then it is a Christian hymn faithful to the Word of God, and an even better hymn if set to an appropriately beautiful tune.
These two verses we pause to ponder this afternoon continue for generation after generation in the Christian Church because they are drawn from Scripture and present in song the same plea all believers offer up before the Lord of heaven and earth.
We as Christians are called upon to critique and evaluate and judge the hymns we sing, the Christian books we read, the prayers we pray on the basis of this one measuring stick: does this faithfully reflect the Scriptures and the salvation revealed in Christ? Is this borne of the revealed Word of God through the prophets and the apostles, or is it simply a product of our own fallen human imagination — the way we think salvation should work, the way I think Christ should operate in my life? God help us always to discern the wheat from the chaff when it comes to what we pray and what we study and what we sing.
And so, directed by the revealed Word of God, we join the voice of the prophets and apostles as we look to our Lord Christ and pray in these days before Christmas: "O come, Thou Key of David and do your saving work of opening and closing." "O come, Thou Dayspring from on high and do your redeeming work of driving away the darkness of death."
It is the babe born in Bethlehem that is our Sun of Righteousness, who comes in grace and mercy and forgiveness with (as the prophet Malachi foretells) healing in his wings — redemption that forever closes the door on our estrangement from God and opens the door only the Christ can open: the gates of an eternal heaven with our Lord and with our loved ones: those who have gone before us clothed in Christ's righteousness — and those who will follow us — the faithful in our households, and the faithful in the household of faith baptized into Jesus' birth and death, his cross and resurrection, his ascension into heaven.
For you see, from the earliest times of the Christian Church — from the time of the apostles — being enlightened by the redeeming rays of Christ and his righteousness was the language of Holy Baptism. Being enlightened had nothing to do with sitting under a tree and contemplating selfish desire or suddenly understanding the wisdom of the world while eating magic mushrooms.
Under the Word of Christ and his messengers, being enlightened is all about Christ coming — Christ's advent — in, with and through the water of the font to bring to light our desperate need to be forgiven, and God's saving work of providing the free gift of redemption through the once-for-all sacrifice of his Son.
And so we sing: "O come, Thou Key of David and do your saving work of opening and closing." "O come, Thou Dayspring from on high and do your redeeming work of driving away the darkness of death."
This is the purpose for which the prophets and apostles were sent out into the world: to serve Christ by witnessing to him and his coming to save through his Word and water and bread and wine.
For the commission of our Lord to the apostle Paul is the commission to the Christian Church in our day: "I am sending you," Jesus says, "to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me." (Acts 26:18 ESV)
Who is properly prepared to receive the Christ child on Christmas Day? Those who can stand before Christ and his Church and confess: I am in bondage and cannot free myself. I am spiritually helpless and a prisoner of a dungeon of my own making. I am chained to my fallen-ness and sin. My rescue lies in the One God himself has appointed to open and to shut. The One who holds the Key and Scepter of Redemption. Who opens and no one can shut. Who shuts and no one can open. Who has won salvation and gifts it to all who will receive it in true faith.
"O come, Thou Key of David and do your saving work of opening and closing." "O come, Thou Dayspring from on high and do your redeeming work of driving away the darkness of death."
We join the prophets and apostles and pray to our Lord: "Come and rescue us; come and enlighten us with your Word." For, as the psalmist has written:

Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD!
O Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy!
If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.
I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.
O Israel, hope in the LORD!
For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption.
And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities. (Psalm 130:1-8 ESV)

God continue to bless our Adventide in Christ the Key, in Christ the Morning Star. Amen