This “O Antiphon” leading into the Magnificat during Evening Prayer for December 19th is found in the Divine Office. The Alleluia verse today is the third of eight consecutive “O Antiphons” before Christmas. This antiphon is about the sign of God’s love for us and our salvation through the “Flower of Jesse’s stem.”
The first reading is the story of Samson’s birth, a Nazarite, i.e., one consecrated to God with the outer sign of uncut hair. He will be the sign of God’s love and salvation to his people. Thus he is a pre-figure of the more familiar John the Baptist, another Nazarite, and his role in becoming the one who prepares the way for the savior, Jesus. The gospel is the story of the annunciation to his father, Zechariah, of the coming birth of John the Baptist by the Archangel, Gabriel. But Zechariah was full of fear and disbelief and was made mute for his lack of faith which will be contrasted with Mary’s “fiat”, her acceptance of God’s will.
The Lucan stories to come will be the annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary by the same Archangel, then John’s birth and naming at his circumcision, then finally the familiar story of the birth of our Savior, Jesus the Messiah, the anointed one. Notice the words, “Jesus the Messiah” rather than the usual Jesus Christ. Our English word “Christ” comes from the Greek word for the “anointed one.” The Hebrew word for the same idea is “Messiah.” In the Hebrew Scriptures anointing was reserved for Kings.
The Jewish people were caught up for centuries with the waiting and expectation of the coming of their savior, their Messiah. They expect the Messiah to be like a King David, one who empowers the people and saves them. And to emphasize the importance of this to the Jewish faithful at the time of Jesus’ coming, the story of John the Baptist as the herald and precursor of the Savior is given to us.
Just as our children now have this wonderful and natural longing and waiting for Christmas so also the Jewish people for centuries have waited for their savior, their anointed King, their Messiah. This note of expectation is found throughout the gospels whenever our translation uses the word Christ. Alas, we at times think of the word as Jesus’ last name, Jesus Christ, when at that time and for those people it meant Jesus the Messiah (the kingly anointed one for whom they have been waiting for centuries.)
So, as we listen to these stories the next few days, the Annunciation, the birth of John, and the birth of Jesus, we should try to get into the “waiting, longing and expectation” feeling that the people of God had at the first Christmas. We sing again the Alleluia for the day that recalls Jesus is the flower of Jesse’s stem (King David), the savior who shows God’s love for us all.
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