The Great O’s of Advent

by The Rev. Andrew W. Foster

Now we are deep in the throes of The Holidays, as our secular and
highly materialistic culture refers to this time of year. Almost before the
pumpkins of Halloween disappeared from porches throughout the Village, the Christmas Train seemed to start barreling down the tracks with its annual frenzy, glitter and inevitability. In New York various commercial customs have become enshrined as beloved traditions that help to
mark the swift passage of the days. First, it’s the Macy’s Thanksgiving
Day Parade, now almost crowded out by the obligatory shopping days of
Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Then, we light the Rockefeller Center
Christmas Tree for the whole world to see, nearly a whole month before
the Big Day itself. Then, a whirl of receptions and parties commences
before you know it. No wonder the holidays are so exhausting!

Meanwhile, as people of contradiction, Christians mark a much more
solemn time of Advent preparation. The themes are stark and challenging
– almost too judgmental for modern sensibilities. In my youth, the
four Sundays of Advent used to focus on the Four Last Things – Death,
Judgment, Heaven and Hell. You don’t find many Episcopal preachers
choosing those topics these days. (And for that, we are grateful!) Instead,
we simply try to slow down a bit and to deepen our faith journey
in quieter, more somber ways.

The last eight days before Christmas have for centuries been marked with
a special intensity in the prayer and celebration of the Church. On each
of the seven nights before Christmas Eve there is a new call for God to
come among us. These are called the Great “O” antiphons because each
begins, like the verses of Hymn 56, with the phrase, “O come …” If
you would like to add these prayers to your daily meditation, think
about each one on its proper day:

December 17: O come, thou Wisdom from on high
December 18: O come, thou Lord of might
December 19: O come, thou Branch of Jesse’s tree
December 20: O come, thou Key of David
December 21: O come, thou Dayspring from on high
December 22: O come, Desire of nations
December 23: O come, O come Emmanuel

Of course, we associate yet another “O” song with Christmas Eve – “O
come, all ye faithful!”

Have a peaceful Advent and a blessed Christmas, my friends.


The Rev. Andrew W. Foster III,
Rector, The Church of the Ascension