Dec 17, 2014

The O Antiphons -- Decoded!

Maybe you've heard something about these so-called O Antiphons but were too embarrassed to ask? Or perhaps your Google is broken? Fear Not! (as we churchy types like to say this time of year). For behold I bring you the key to cracking the O Antiphon code. 

But first I want to clear up several pre-conceived notions. The O Antiphons do NOT  have anything to do with Oprah. Nor are they related to other songs beginning with “O” like O Susanna, O Christmas Tree, or O-bla-di-O-bla-da.

They are, however, a rich tradition during the waning days of Advent. If you're not familiar with them per se, you likely know the hymn O Come, O Come Emmanuel which is based upon them. 

The “O Antiphons” have been used as an Advent devotion as early as the 5th century. Benedictine monasteries provide some of the earliest evidence of their usage and by the 8th century they were commonly used in Roman churches. There are seven “O's” (the name simply derives from the start of each antiphon — “O Sapienta, O Adonai, etc.) and each one recalls a Scriptural reference to Jesus. 

There is one appointed for every day between December 17 and 23rd. Thus:

December 17: O Sapientia (O Wisdom)
O come, thou Wisdom from on high, who orderest all things mightily, 
to us the path of knowledge show, and teach us in her ways to go.

December 18: O Adonai (O Lord)
O come, O come, thou Lord of might, who to thy tribes on Sinai's height,                       
in ancient times didst give the law, in cloud, and majesty, and awe.

December 19: O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse)
O come, thou Branch of Jesse's tree, free them from Satan's tyranny
that trust thy mighty power to save, and give them victory o'er the grave.

December 20: O Clavis David (O Key of David)                                                  
O come, thou Key of David, come, and open wide our heavenly home;                         
make safe the way that leads on high, and close the path to misery.

December 21: O Oriens (O Dayspring)
O come, thou Dayspring from on high, and cheer us by thy drawing nigh;                       
 disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death's dark shadows put to flight.

December 22: O Rex Gentium (O King of the Nations)  
O come, Desire of nations, bind in one the hearts of all mankind;                          
bid thou our sad divisions cease, and be thyself our King of Peace.

December 23: O Emmanuel (O God-With-Us)      
O come, O come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel,                                                       
that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear.

In Anglican usage the O Antiphons are traditionally used before and after the Magnificat at Evening
Prayer (sung at Evensong) or as the Alleluia verse before the gospel reading during the appointed days.

For many, they are still used as private devotions and it is in this way that I'd encourage you to engage them over the next week. (If you're a Latin enthusiast, you may want to check out New Zealander Bosco Peters' terrific post on the subject on his Liturgy blog, as he includes all the Latin texts).

Anyway, as a devotion, take the corresponding verse in the familiar hymn and reflect on it for a few minutes each day. How do you experience Jesus through the particular verse? What is happening in your own life that might be a parallel? How might you be inspired by the verse as you draw nearer to the Incarnational event on Christmas Day?

Then don't forget to end each session with the refrain -- Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!

If you try it out as part of your spiritual preparation this year, I'd love to hear about your experience!

Dec 16, 2014

7 MORE Ways to "Welcome" Visitors on Christmas Eve

Some of you have likely seen the helpful article making the rounds on social media posted by Building Faith titled 7 Ways to Welcome Visitors on Christmas Eve. It's true that Christmas Eve offers congregations a unique opportunity to show Christian hospitality to many folks who rarely darken the doors of our churches. 

To enhance the conversation, I thought I'd add a few more tips for parishes to help make visitors feel particularly welcome on this most holy night.

1. Instead of the bride's side and the groom's side, have ushers ask whether people would prefer the "actually a parishioner side" or the "who are you we've never seen you before" side. This will come in handy when the preacher later brings up separating the sheep from the goats in the sermon.

2. Judge rather than help people who have trouble navigating the Prayer Book/Hymnal/Bulletin juggling act. Snicker when they try to find Hymn 100 ("Joy to the World") but can only find S-100, that ever joyful plainsong version of the Trisagion.

3. At the announcements, remind everyone in the congregation (in a sarcastic tone) that you really do hold services more than once or twice a year. Also, toss around the term "communicant in good standing."

4. Make no mention of Christmas Eve services on your website or church answering machine. Or, if you do, insure you've changed the time since last year. Nothing says "Ho, ho, ho" quite like showing up just in time for the dismissal.

5. Don't explain the logistics of communion. It's best to keep newcomers' anxiety about appearing foolish or "doing the wrong thing" ratcheted up as high as possible. Don't forget to correct anyone who says "thank you" after receiving the host by hissing "you mean 'amen.'"

6. After the service on the Fourth Sunday of Advent, hold an adult education class to give
parishioners tips on perfecting their their dirty looks and stink eye for use on visitors who sit in their regular pews. Actually, why not just have them leave their coats on their pews for the entire week?

7. Keep the large front doors locked since everyone knows you go through that side door near the kitchen to get into the worship space.

Well, I hope this has given you a few extra ideas to make your guests feel welcome on Christmas Eve. What's the worst that could happen? They'll just try a different church on Easter.

Dec 15, 2014

Bethlehem Leap?

I love Christmas pageants. And not just for the "cute factor," which is generally off the charts. I see them as wonderful opportunities for children (and by extension adults) to quite literally engage with the nativity story.

But I admit I love pageant "bloopers" almost as much as the pageants themselves. There are great spiritual lessons here since mishaps are a part of life and reminders that things don't always go according to plan in our relationship with the divine. I've come to embrace the imperfections (I've seen a number of fallen angels over the years) as symbols of our own humanity. And who doesn't love it when Mary drops the "holy doll" or one of the shepherds goes off script?

One of my favorite pageant moments involved my youngest son Zak. When he was five or six he was one of the Three Kings in the Christmas Eve pageant at All Saints' in Briarcliff Manor, New York, where I served as rector from 2002 to 2009. Before the pageant he warned us (foretold?) that in the middle of the proceedings he was going to "leap into the stands" like a Packers player following a touchdown in Green Bay.

And by God, he did. After the Magi presented their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, he turned around with a twinkle in his eye (you can see it in the accompanying picture taken just before his mad dash), and jumped into Bryna's arms in the front pew. Following his "Bethlehem Leap" he went right back into character kneeling before the manger.

It's not that pageant directors write such mishaps into the script. But when you gather a group of kids, put them in costumes, and get them all amped up on candy canes right before Christmas, things rarely go according to plan.

And you know what? That's okay. In many ways, an imperfect pageant is a much more genuine reflection of faith than that hand-painted china nativity set on the mantle. Faith is not neat and tidy and sterile, it's messy and complicated and engaged. That's the true miracle of Christ's incarnation -- that God entered the muck of the stable and continues to wade through the reality of our humanity.

So enjoy those pageants this year -- go to one or think about those you participated in as a child or witnessed as an adult. Then reflect on the miracle, in all its messiness, unfolding before your very eyes.

Dec 14, 2014

Smoking Bishop: The Definitive Recipe

Can you really offer Advent Lessons & Carols without serving Smoking Bishop at the candlelight reception that follows? I presume it happens but not on my watch. Smoking Bishop has become part of our L&C tradition at St. John's in Hingham -- people look forward to it at least as much as hearing the choir sing Posten's Jesus Christ the Apple Tree
What exactly is Smoking Bishop? Well, it has nothing to do with your bishop sneaking a cigarette in the parish cemetery before the opening procession. Nor is it to be confused with a flaming bishop — that’s something else entirely. Smoking Bishop is basically a warm version of sangria. It’s a drink so named for its purple color (brought about by red wine and port) and the fact that it’s served warm.
The best-known literary reference comes from the last page of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” After Scrooge has his conversion experience, we read this conversation with his long-suffering employee Bob Cratchit:
“A Merry Christmas, Bob!” said Scrooge with an earnestness that could not be mistaken, as he clapped him on the back. “A merrier Christmas, Bob, my good fellow, than I have given you for many a year! I’ll raise your salary, and endeavor to assist your struggling family, and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon over a bowl of Smoking Bishop, Bob!”
The earliest known recipe for the drink, which was originally called simply "Bishop," was published in an 1827 book called Oxford Nightcaps. It's not certain, at least to me, whether Dickens used "smoking" as an adjective or as the name of the drink but with the popularity of his 1843 classic, the moniker stuck.
My Advent gift to you is the recipe. I hope you’ll try it out and let me know what you think. Better yet, make some and drop it off at the rectory!
Smoking Bishop
5 unpeeled oranges
1 unpeeled grapefruit
36 cloves
1/4 pound of sugar
2 bottles of red wine
1 bottle of port

Wash the fruit and oven bake until brownish. Turn once. Put fruit into a warmed earthenware bowl with six cloves stuck into each. Add sugar and pour in wine — NOT the port. Cover and leave in a warm place for a day. Squeeze the fruit into the wine and strain. Add the port and heat. Do not boil! Serve “smoking” warm. Yield: 15 to 20 servings (serve in small wine glasses).

Dec 10, 2014

What's Up with the Pink Candle?

On the Third Sunday of Advent, many churches light a pink candle on the Advent Wreath. We don’t do this for mere aesthetics — we’re not inserting an "accent" candle to brighten things up. Nor is it because the powers that be secretly hope Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb" will replace the opening hymn.

No, that third candle is pink (or technically rose-colored) because it’s Gaudete Sunday.


Okay, let me back up and do some explaining here. First of all, we refer to the Third Sunday of Advent as Gaudete Sunday (pronounced gow-dey-tay) because the introit for the mass begins “Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete” meaning “Rejoice in the Lord always: again I say rejoice,” based on Philippians 4:4.

While much of the penitential nature of the season has been lost in favor of hopeful expectation, some of the readings still do sound this note, as do the seasonal collects, as Scott Gunn pointed out in a recent blog post. The Third Sunday has traditionally been a respite from the penitential themes of Advent emphasizing instead the joy of the coming of the Lord.

Thus many view the pink candle as emphasizing joy. As with most things liturgical, however, there is not consensus here. Some associate the candle with Mary and perhaps there’s confusion because Laetare Sunday — the Fourth Sunday in Lent — is the other occasion for rose-colored vestments. This is a slight misnomer, however, because this so-called Mothering Sunday refers not to Our Lady but to an old practice in England where the rich gave their servants the Sunday off to go home and visit their mothers. Indeed, Mary appears in the readings for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, not the third.

To go even further back, it’s worth looking at the history of Advent wreaths themselves. There is evidence that some pre-Christian Germanic people placed candles on wreaths in the middle of winter as a symbol of hope that the warm weather of spring would return. And ancient Scandinavians placed candles on wheels in “the bleak mid-winter” as an anticipatory devotion to the sun god. It wasn’t until the Middle Ages that Christians adopted the practice of the Advent wreath as a pre-Christmas devotion.

As I mentioned, some churches use rose-colored vestments twice a year — on the Fourth Sunday in Lent and the Third Sunday of Advent. Both days are seen as times of refreshment, feasting, and joy amid a penitential season. As well as an opportunity to look silly in pink, I mean rose, colored vestments.

So there you have it — a brief explanation about the pink candle that will be lit this Sunday. And as the light continues to build on the Advent wreath, so may the hopeful anticipation of meeting Christ anew build in your heart during this holy season.