Journey to Bethlehem: The O Antiphons

Through the Sundays of Advent we are sharing in worship an ancient sequence of prayers known as the “O Antiphons.”  The litany is named for the word that opens each stanza: “O.”  We recognize it more immediately from the words that follow this opening sound: “O come, O come, Emmanuel . . .”


This familiar and deeply cherished hymn dates back approximately 1500 years. In one form or another, the church has been praying and singing this Advent prayer for nearly two millennia.


What is it we’re expressing with that one-syllable prayer, that primal sound, “O . . .”?  So many things, it seems.  Try making that sound with each of the following emotions or experiences in mind: surprise . . . pain . . . weariness . . .  ecstasy . . . worry . . . shock . . . compassion . . . yearning . . . relief . . . surrender . . . triumph . . . wonder.  It is an exclamation, or a sigh; a moan, or a shout.  It goes naturally with a shaking head, and also a nodding head; with the eyebrow raised or knitted; lips turned up in a smile, or down with the weight of concern.


Nearly from the time of Jesus the young church began to give voice to a prayer, a sound, a single-syllable song that expressed so very much, all at once, of our Advent existence: our loves and longings, our need to say thanks or how, what or why; all the while moving us along our journey toward Bethlehem, where every “O” finds its resolve.  The poet has perhaps said it best: “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”


Together we are moving through the season into which so many things are woven—wonder and worry, love and longing, deep heartache for the world, but also—perhaps most importantly—joyful hope for its redemption.  Rejoice! Rejoice! 

Emmanuel shall come to thee, O . . .


Grace and peace.


Rev. Paul L. Escamilla, Senior Pastor