Today we take the second O Antiphon in preparation for Christmas:
O Adonai, Ruler of the House of Israel,
You appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush,
And on Mount Sinai gave him your law;
Come, and redeem us with outstretched arms.
This antiphon reminds me of a good friend who passed from this world to God some years ago. I had the blessing of attending his Memorial service. I remember him as a seeker, someone who grew more compassionate over the years, though he usually claimed not to believe in God. He was very much the brilliant empiricist and, like Moses, he would’ve gone straight up to that burning bush, asking “What is this thing I see, that the bush is burning but not consumed?” (Exodus 3:3).
This curiosity, this wanting to know, is what enabled Moses to walk on holy ground, to see the Lord pass by, to hear his name called by God himself: “Moses, Moses…!” He would one day even be given the grace and courage to accept God’s invitation to lead the people of Israel out of bondage.
This desire to know is one of the most beautiful things about human beings. As children of God made in God’s image, our Christian tradition tells us we have a unique capacity to know and to love. This means we thirst for personal experience. Firsthand knowledge of the things that we have learned in the abstract is what we long for: to touch, to taste, to hear, see, feel the world around us. However, this is the training ground for experiencing the things of God too.
Do we not also want to experience God in this personal, concrete way, to know God is good and present to us on this earth? We cannot experience God directly, but we can know God in a personal way. As we see in the story of Moses, God obliges us in amazing ways to come closer and get to know Him. This antiphon inspires be to be bold in our dealings with God, to seek the face of God.
The antiphon ends with the phrase is “Come, and with outstretched are redeem us.” I feel comforted that the most powerful aspect of God’s character is mercy. Were it not so, God would never have reached out to the people of Israel to give them the promises, the law and the covenant, and to invite Israel to become his own people. How much more should we not celebrate that mercy during Advent? The Lord, Adonai, descended into our reality to become flesh and dwell with us, sharing our works, joys and sufferings and even face death. If mercy can bring God to earth, then mercy can bring earth to God. We can hope that we will one day experience not a symbol of God as in the burning bush, but the face to face vision of God and the new life in the Spirit.
I have come to believe that many people long for God and seek God throughout their lives, although they may not know it. By living in a way that invites the Spirit of God into their hearts, they also ready themselves to hear the words of Christ, “Come beloved of my Father, for I was hungry and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was homeless and you gave me shelter, in prison and you came to see me, sick and you visited me. And they will be surprised and ask, “When, when did we do this for you?” And Adonai will answer, “As long as you did this for one of these the least of my brothers or sisters, you did it for me.”
Jesus states that many will be surprised to hear those words addressed to them. As I remember my friend with whom I spent many Christmas celebrations, it is my hope that he will hear the consoling words of welcome from the Lord, to his everlasting joy: come beloved of my Father.
copyright 2014 Julie Paavola