17th December

O Come From On High

The one who is holy and true has the key of David, and when he opens a door no one can close it; when he closes a door no one can open it … The great Son of David has won the victory. Revelation 3: 7; 5. 5.

As Christians reflected over the centuries on the nature of the coming King, they were given awesome insights. These were expressed in ‘The Prayer of the Great O’s’, known as the Advent Antiphons, which were said from December 17. This prayer expresses two great truths about Christ. First, that he was the eternal Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, the eternal Wisdom who had always been guiding God’s people. Second, that the great representatives of God’s people, such as Moses and King David, prefigured Christ. They saw Jesus as living to the full what these characters lived in a measure. In the fourteenth century a Durham monk became a hermit on the island of Farne, just as had their founding saint, Cuthbert. As this unknown hermit meditated on this vein, his imagination ran riot, and he wrote this prayer to Christ:

You are David who scattered with strong arm your foes
and shattered death’s barred gates to free your own people;
You slew the giant vaunting
and the sons of Jacob taunting
though you had but a sling.
You like worm-wood undermining, armed and battle not declining
victory did nobly gain.
Philistinian ranks were saddened
Saul and his retainers gladdened
by the trophies of the slain.
Warfare for us waging blithely
to the cross-top leaping lithely
hell’s great might you overthrew.
Wondrous tones from your harp ringing
– your wounds were in painful stringing –
yield a tune folk did not know.
Kindest Jesus then uphold us
when death’s darkness does enfold us
be our comfort and our stay.
A monk of Farne

Give to us Christ’s strength to blithely surmount life’s ills.
Give to us, O God, strong love
and that beautiful crown of the King