O Adonai, et Dux domus Israel,
qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti,
et ei in Sina legem dedisti:
veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.
O Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel,
who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush
and gave him the law on Sinai:
Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm.
O Antiphon, December 18
Reflection – ‘Adonai’ is Hebrew for ‘my Lord’. It is the spoken word used in place of the sacred name which no Jew may utter out loud, the name YHWH given to Moses in the burning bush. Even the name Adonai has such a holiness to it that devout Jews will only use it in liturgical prayer—in daily speech they refer to God as HaShem – the name.
So we are here at the very heart of biblical revelation. The God who is the wisdom answering the deepest questions of our heart is also the God who manifested himself to this little tribe of fleeing slaves, who had spoken earlier to their fathers and who now was leading this group of poor people to a land he had promised to them.
So there is an intimacy here, a sense of God coming very close to us. Wisdom is big, cosmic, eternal, and somewhat philosophical in its leanings. This is the God who hears the cry of His people and acts to save them.
The arm of God is a symbol of his mighty power. The Lord here is a God who flexes his muscles for us, who is willing to part the waves and move mountains. A God who does, which flows from the simple fact that He is the God who is.
And what this God does for us is set us free. This is something I’ve been meditating on quite a bit – the importance of freedom in the whole life of the Spirit. Slavery, and the experience of slavery in Egypt, of course becomes in biblical thought the very image of life without God. Sin is slavery at its deepest root – the captivity of the human will in death and not life. Our will turned against our own deepest good and our own destiny, the true Promised Land of all humanity. Sin is slavery.
And that is the deep significance of the third line of this antiphon. The God who hears the cry of his people and who extends his mighty arm to redeem (liberate) them, does so by giving them the law on Sinai. To our modern minds, this is nonsense. Freedom for us so often means doing just as we please, following every whim, indulging every passion and desire of the flesh.
That God would take us out of the slavery of Egypt, the cruel taskmasters of Pharaoh, only to give us an extensive law code that will ultimately govern every aspect of daily life, seems to us to be a sick joke. This is freedom?
Yes, this is freedom. There is a whole biblical world view that is very alien to our modern world. We do have to ultimately decide whether we belong to the bible or to the modern world. One of the reasons I love Pope Emeritus Benedict so much is that he has done great work describing why the modern view of freedom is ultimately self-defeating. Freedom as simply doing whatever you want is a freedom so emptied of content and force that it is not adequate to sustain itself.
The freedom that is simple volition, the capacity to choose ‘a’ over ‘b’ must be held in a deeper freedom, which is the capacity to discern the truth about things, the true goodness of things, and the ultimate horizons of truth and goodness that our human lives are ordered by. In other words, we are back here to ‘wisdom’, yesterday’s antiphon, the knowledge of the basic structure of reality, and the path of prudence that allows us to order our lives within that structure. The path of prudence is one with, and flows from, the eternal unchanging moral law.
This antiphon tells us the intensely biblical message that this law and this structure are good things, liberating things, flowing from the love and compassion of our God and Lord. His giving us a sure knowledge of the moral law is an act of liberating redemptive love.
But of course all of this is in the ‘key of Jesus’, right? These O antiphons are leading us to Bethlehem and the Child born there. The compassion of God for us, the whole revelation of the path of moral righteousness, the mighty power of God to liberate us—all of these revelations are incomplete until we connect them to this little baby, this man who walked the promised land of Israel and gave us the new law of love which does not negate but rather fulfills the old law, this man on the Cross, this true Adonai. My Lord and my Savior (and yours), Jesus Christ. Come, Lord Jesus, and set us free from ourselves so that we can freely choose to love as you loved. Amen.