Antiphons of Advent

There are so many great Advent hymns.  Each year I find myself wishing Advent was a little longer so that we would have more opportunity to sing them.  One of the best known of these great hymns is generally sung on the fourth Sunday in Advent – O Come, O Come Emmanuel. 
The text of this hymn has an interesting history.  Sometime prior to the ninth century, a custom arose of chanting a short antiphon before and after the Magnificat at daily Vespers from December 17 through 23.  There were seven of these antiphons, one for each of the days leading up to Christmas Eve.  Each of these seven antiphons began with the word “O” followed by one of seven titles used to describe God in Scripture:  Wisdom, Adonai, Root of Jesse, Key of David, Dayspring, King of Nations, and Emmanuel.  These antiphons have became known as the Great “O” Antiphons of Advent.   

Sometime in the 12th century, an unknown author put each of the  Antiphons into poetic verse, added a refrain (“Rejoice, Rejoice, Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel”), and the hymn that we know as “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” was born. 

Take a moment in these final days before Christmas to read and meditate on these antiphons, the associated hymn stanzas (LSB 357), and the Scriptures for each. 

  • O Wisdom:  Proverbs 1:2-7; Isaiah 11:1-2
  • O Adonai:  Exodus 3:1-15
  • O Root of Jesse:  Isaiah 11:10, Isaiah 53:12, Jeremiah 33:14-16
  • O Key of David:  Isaiah 22:22, Psalm 132:11-12, Revelation 3:7
  • O Dayspring:  Isaiah 60:1-3, Isaiah 9:2,  Luke 1:78-79
  • O King of Nations:  Isaiah 32:1-3, Psalm 24:7-10, Zechariah 9:9, Matthew 9:6-9
  • O Emmanuel:  Isaiah 9:6-7,  Exodus 13:17-22, Matthew 1:23 

May God richly bless your celebration of the Word made flesh who came to dwell among us! 
Jeffrey Blersch  

Dr. Jeffrey Blersch is Director of Music at Pacific HIlls Lutheran Church in Omaha Nebraska