On December 17 the Church begins the second part of Advent, in which she focuses more intensely on the immediate preparation for the Feast of Christmas and the Lord’s Nativity. The Masses and Liturgy of these days are amazingly rich and beautiful in their scriptural content. In many nations it is traditional for the faithful to attend Mass early in the morning during the entire last week of Advent, praying in the cold darkness for the Lord to come on the Holy Night as the light of the nations. Here are a few thoughts on praying with Scripture during the last days of Advent.
The Infancy Narratives
From December 17-24 the Church reads exclusively from the Infancy Narratives of Matthew and Luke at the Gospel at daily Mass. We hear again the genealogy of Christ, the visits of the angel Gabriel to Zechariah, Mary, and Joseph, and we are invited to ponder the Word of God and his humble human origins as we prepare for the beauty and wonder of the holy night and his saving birth at Bethlehem.
The Old Testament prophecies proclaimed in the First Reading are chosen to correspond to the Gospels. From Genesis we hear Jacob bless the tribe of Judah, of whom the Christ child is to be born, and the prophet Jeremiah assures Israel that the coming King will restore justice to the land. The stories of the births of Samson and Samuel recall how God worked in salvation history through sending the gift of a child to his faithful people. The prophets Isaiah and Malachi speak of the Lord answering his people’s longing in the figures of the Virgin Mary and John the Baptist. And the Lord’s promise to King David is proclaimed to us on the morning before the night when the whole world goes to adore the Lord in Bethlehem: “Your throne shall stand firm forever.”
The Psalms of late Advent include some of the great messianic psalms. Psalm 72 prays that the coming King will establish justice and be acclaimed by all the nations, while Psalm 89 rejoices in the Lord’s promises to David. Psalm 24 is the great psalm acclaiming the Lord as he enters into his temple: “O gates lift high your heads, let the Lord enter; he is the king of glory!” In a similar vein, Jesus’ words in the Gospel of Luke 21:28 are repeated as an antiphon in the liturgy during these expectant days: “Lift up your heads and see; your redemption is near at hand.”
The O Antiphons
Perhaps the most beautiful and mysterious aspect of the late Advent liturgy are the famous seven O Antiphons, which place before us scriptural titles of Christ found in the Old Testament. Each night at Vespers and also at the Alleluia verse of the Mass, the coming Messiah is hailed with a different title: O Wisdom, O Adonai and Leader, O Root of Jesse, O Key of David, O Dawn from on High, O King of the Nations, O Emmanuel. We contemplate the beauty of the Word of God, shining into the darkness of sinful humanity, and with all our hearts we ask him to come and set us free.
During these final days of Advent, the darkest days of the year in the northern hemisphere, let’s pray with all our hearts that Jesus Christ the Word of God may set us free from fear and enable us to hear anew the song of the angels on the Holy Night, “Glory to God in the highest!” Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!