An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).
Names are a pretty awesome thing if you think about it. Broken down into their very simplest form, names are nothing more than symbols and sounds. But, arrange those symbols and sounds in just the right way and they evoke a vast array of ideas and emotions. And so that’s how you get John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Or Aaron Charles Rodgers. Uncle Roy and Grandma Jones and, yes, even Kim Jong Il. For better or for worse, whether known intimately or simply by association in each case, symbols and sounds arranged a certain way evoke a vast array of ideas and emotions. Names are a pretty awesome thing.
In the eighth century monks living in Europe marveled at the distinct value and beauty associated with name—specifically the names of God. They drafted what have since come to be known as the Great O Antiphons—short prayers based on a name for God. And while the Antiphons became widely used by the Christian Church in the 8th century and following, their origins vastly predate that. These Antiphons, or prayers, hearken from the time of the prophet Isaiah and his contemporaries who used picturesque names for the coming Messiah, and like facets on a diamond, each one revealing a bit different look at the awesome work and character of our Savior God. The names are Latin and so sound funny to our modern ears: Sapientia (Wisdom), Adonai (Mighty Lord), Radix Iesse (Root of Jesse), Clavis David (Key of David), Oriens (Dayspring), Rex Gentium (King of the Nations), and Emmanuel (God with Us). Though they sound strange they remind us of great truth: He is coming! Because he came in the flesh and now comes to us through his Word and Sacraments, we can and do eagerly await his coming in glory.
And so it is that this Advent we join the ranks of Isaiah and his contemporaries, European monks of the 8th century long since gone, and the countless rest of all those who wait for the Lord to come. This is the value of the ancient—it reminds us that we belong to a universal Church not bound by time or space or place, but waiting, watching, hoping, praying: Come, Lord Jesus! Come quickly!
Please join us this Advent season as we marvel at the saving name and work of our God!