Today begins the final countdown to our celebration of the Incarnation of Jesus at Christmas. It is, I think, as significant as it is unusual that today is both Gaudete Sunday – the call to Rejoice! – as well as the day when we begin to hear the O Antiphons, those short chants sung as refrains, at vespers, the evening prayer of the Church.
Our joy at this moment in Advent rises up because we recognize that the birth of Jesus is near. It is difficult sometimes to consider this as more than a commemoration like a birthday party. If we are able to dig deeply into our hearts seeking the transformation that we long for in Christ, Christmas will not be just a day but will be rooted in new ways in the joy of our faith. We will make a habit of calling on the wisdom that is a gift freely given if only we ask. And that is the call of this first day of the O Antiphons. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops explain it well to us today (usccb.org):
The Roman Church has been singing the “O” Antiphons since at least the eighth century. They are the antiphons that accompany the Magnificat canticle of Evening Prayer from December 17-23. They are magnificent theology that uses ancient biblical imagery drawn from the messianic hopes of the Old Testament to proclaim the coming Christ as the fulfillment not only of Old Testament hopes, but present ones as well. The repeated use of the imperative “Come!” embodies the longing of all for the Divine Messiah.
Thus today we pray, calling on the Christ to quickly come: O Wisdom of our God Most High, guiding creation with power and love: come to teach us the path of knowledge!