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O Sapientia: the First Antiphon: Ann Lewin


 Some of the words we are given to ponder during [Advent] are found in the Advent Antiphons, meditations on verses of Scripture that were sung in turn from at least the fourth century, before and after the Magnificat at Vespers, the monastic equivalent of Evensong, on the seven days leading up to Christmas. By the twelfth century, five of these had been put together into a Latin hymn, translated into English in the nineteenth century by John Mason Neale. They form the basis of the hymn O come, O come Emmanuel. The first of the Antiphons survives by name in modern Lectionaries, where 17 December is named O Sapientia.

O Sapientia (O Wisdom)

O Wisdom, coming forth from the Most High, filling of creation and reigning to the ends of the earth: come and teach us the way of truth.

Isaiah 1 1:2-3; Wisdom 7:24-28; Ecclesiasticus 1:1-20

…Wisdom isn’t a commodity, a package we can get off the shelf. It is described as a way, a disposition. It is also personified as a companion who influences us so profoundly that we become wise in our turn…Like many of God’s gifts, we receive it in part from other human beings. Some wisdom we inherit from the past, timeless wisdom that has stood the test, always true…

Other kinds of wisdom we realise have to be challenged. We sometimes talk about ‘received wisdom’, and when we do, we are usually expressing some doubt about what seemed to be true at one time, but doesn’t sit easily with our understanding now. For example, it used to be thought perfectly acceptable to enslave people. But then came people who challenged that concept, and established a wiser approach to treating people from other cultures and races.

We need to draw on the wisdom of previous generations, and apply it in the light of contemporary understanding of what it is to be human. That is what Jesus kept on doing. The Gospels record him telling stories that illustrated people’s lives and relationships. Sometimes he said,’Go and do the same’ (Luke 10.25-37). At other times, he said ‘Think, see what conclusions you draw’ (Matthew 6:26-34). At yet other times he said ‘that old idea won’t do. You have heard it said ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy’, but I say to you ‘Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you’ (Matthew 5:17-48).

…Biblical wisdom revolves around the idea that we need to live our lives in awareness of God, accountable to God, in a context of reverent worship. That comes about when we decide that our priority is to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. Jesus did that, and it showed in the way he paid attention to God in prayer and public worship, in the way he treated people with profound respect, and the way he recognised God’s faithful love in sustaining the whole creation.

That is not a bad description of how we too can begin to live in the fear of God, and grow in wisdom, as we live in growing awareness of God, rooting that awareness in prayer, which is the heartbeat of our relationship with God.

This extract is taken from ‘Come Emmanuel: Approaching Advent, living with Christmas‘ by Ann Lewin


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