Today we enter “the home stretch” in the run up to Christmas – in a liturgical sense anyway. Many Christians have been singing O Come, O Come, Emmanuel…for weeks by now, not knowing the genesis of the text. The hymn is believed to have been composed by a cantor in the 7th or 8th century and thus became truly popular in the Middle Ages. But there is a greater history in those words which are a collection of phrases from Biblical texts largely from the wisdom and prophetic books of the Hebrew Scriptures. In the Christian tradition they found their way into monastic liturgy as the antiphon for the Magnificat at evening prayer and at Mass as the verse before the gospel reading, calling persistently for the promised Messiah to “Come!”
The series of antiphons begins by addressing the Messiah as Wisdom. Here are two translations, one the traditional, the second a more creative imaging to help us grasp an additional nuance from the Book of Wisdom, where Wisdom is seen as God’s consort in the creation of the universe.
O Wisdom, You came forth from the mouth of the Most High, and reaching from beginning to end, You ordered all things mightily and sweetly. Come, teach us the way of prudence.
O Wisdom, playing before God from the beginning, the dance of all creation comes from you. You keep our world spinning. Come, teach us the order of things, the steps of your dance.