It’s not a great movie. It’s not even in my top fifty, but if it is on TV, I’m probably going to watch it. Here’s my favorite scene. There is this middle-aged Frenchman sitting at the dinner table eating soup with his elderly mother. They are listening to scratchy radio that is spouting off all sorts of strange messages. He is only half-listening because the messages all sound ridiculous. “Molasses tomorrow will bring forth cognac,” and “There is a fire at the travel agency,” and “Daphne and Monique are taking a trip.” It is pretty boring stuff, but then our friend hears the message, “John has a long mustache.” He immediately jumps up, drops his spoon in his soup, and begins to repeat the message over and over again excitedly. And each time he says it, his enthusiasm for the line grows dramatically. His mother has no idea what is going on and is clearly worried about her son. To reassure her, he looks her in the eyes and says, “John has a long mustache!” Unfortunately, it solved nothing, and my guess is that it doesn’t solve anything for you either. But it is clear that information about John’s mustache was very good news for our friend. And if you were living in occupied Normandy in the early days of June, 1944, it would have been great news for you, too, especially if you were a member of the French resistance because “John has a long mustache” was code—a signal that the invasion of Normandy was imminent and that the liberation of France was at hand. (In case, you are wondering, the movie was named, The Longest Day. It received a rating of 7.7 out of 10 on IMDB; and in my opinion, anything over a rating of 7 should be watched and enjoyed, without guilt, if it shows up serendipitously on TV).
Last week, we commented on how the Great Antiphons all begin with an “O,” (as in, “O come on! You could not have forgotten that already!). And from week one, we have been saying that each of the seven antiphons are prayers asking God to bestow upon us a special gift of grace. Why? Because we are a broken and needy people and desperately need grace. But for many of us, our prayers are always one-sided. We ask, and we wait. We ask, and we hope. We ask, but we do not know if God will respond. But buried in these seven prayers is a coded message that reminds us that God has heard our prayers and is, even now, moving in response to them. Now, to discover the code, it helps if you know Latin (so let’s pretend we do). As we have said multiple times, each of the seven antiphons call the Messiah by a different title. In Latin, those seven titles are: Sapientia (Wisdom), Adonai (Adonai/Lord), Radix (Root), Clavis (Key), Oriens (Dayspring/Radiant Dawn), Rex (King), and Emmanuel (God with us). Here’s the code part. Take the first letter of each of the seven titles and write them down to make an acrostic—a single word in which each letter stands for another word. If you did this correctly, the word in front of you will be “SARCORE.” Unfortunately, SARCORE means absolutely nothing. BUT if you reverse the letters in “SARCORE,” you will end with the Latin words “ERO CRAS,” meaning, “Tomorrow, I will come,” or “Tomorrow, I will be there.” An example that we have already discussed may help. Each prayer starts off with a Messianic title preceded by “O” (“O Wisdom”). That title is then elaborated upon so that we see how it is connected to God and to the Messiah (“You came forth from the mouth of the Most High; you are before all things, and in you all things hold together”). Each antiphon then calls out to the Messiah, imploring him to draw near to us and our request (“Come”). And then, the antiphon ends with an elaboration of the request to come (“Come, and teach us the way of wisdom”). This is our prayer offered in faith and in hope. And immediately upon completion of the prayer, we hear God’s response: ERO CRAS—“Tomorrow, I will be there.” “Tomorrow, I will come.” “I have heard your prayer, and I am coming.” And even though we may not use each title in our prayers, God’s promise is still the same. Whenever we pray in faith, God responds, “I have heard your prayer and I am coming.” Allow me to continue the analogy. We pray going down the page (SARCORE); and when we reach the end of our prayer, God moves up the page (ERO CRAS) with his promise of grace. I love that!
And so, we pray: “O Root of Jesse.” And we elaborate upon that Messianic title: “You have been raised up as a sign [NIV – “banner”] for all peoples; kings stand silent in your presence; the nations bow down in worship before you.” We cry out to God to hear our prayer: “Come!” And we ask God to hear our request, a request that mirrors the antiphon: “Come, save us, and do not delay.”
One of the other aspects that I love about the antiphon is that each elaboration of the Messianic title is rooted in Scripture. This antiphon has its basis in one of the greatest Messianic passages of all, Isaiah 11:1-12 (note in particular the sections in red–verses 1-3, 10 and 12–and see how they connect to our antiphon):
“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of might,
the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the LORD—
and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.
He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears;
but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
with the breath of his lips, he will slay the wicked.
Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist.
The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The infant will play near the cobra’s den, and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples;
the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious.
In that day the Lord will reach out his hand a second time
to reclaim the surviving remnant of his people
from Assyria, from Lower Egypt, from Upper Egypt, from Cush, from Elam, from Babylonia,
from Hamath and from the islands of the Mediterranean.
He will raise a banner for the nations and gather the exiles of Israel;
he will assemble the scattered people of Judah from the four quarters of the earth.”
And we hear Jesus the Messiah in Luke 4:18-20 say:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down.
The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him.
He began by saying to them,
‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’”
And we read in Isaiah 52:13-15:
“See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.
Just as there were many who were appalled at him —
his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being
and his form marred beyond human likeness —
so he will sprinkle many nations, and kings will shut their mouths because of him.
For what they were not told, they will see,
and what they have not heard, they will understand.”
We pray: “O Key of David and Scepter of the House of Israel.” And we elaborate upon that Messianic title: “You open and no one can shut; you shut and no one can open.” We cry out to God to meet us in our prayer: “Come!” And we ask God to answer our specific request: “Come, and deliver from the chains of prison those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.”
This prayer is also rich in the Scriptures. We hear the words of Revelation 3 (vs. 7):
“To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write:
These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David.
What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.”
We hear Jesus’ words to Peter and the church (Mt. 19:17-19):
“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah,
for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.
And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church,
and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.
I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven;
whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven,
and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
We hear echoes of Psalm 107:10-16:
“Some sat in darkness, in utter darkness, prisoners suffering in iron chains,
because they rebelled against God’s commands and despised the plans of the Most High.
So he subjected them to bitter labor; they stumbled, and there was no one to help.
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress.
He brought them out of darkness, the utter darkness, and broke away their chains.
Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind,
for he breaks down gates of bronze and cuts through bars of iron.”
We read in Hebrews 1:8-9:
“But about the Son he says,
Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever;
a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom.
You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;
therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions
by anointing you with the oil of joy.”
And we remember the promise of the coming of the Messiah in Genesis 49:10:
“The scepter will not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until he to whom it belongs shall come
and the obedience of the nations shall be his.”
O Lord, come and deliver us. Be our King, rule over us and set us free.
But this blog should be more than an analysis of what this next antiphon includes, but should also ask questions about how it should move from the page and into our lives. So, where do these antiphons speak into our lives? Here are four questions to think about as we approach Christmas.
- How can the structure of these antiphons (title, elaboration of the title from Scripture, a request for God to come and the specific request) help you in your prayer life?
- The Messianic passage in Isaiah 11:1-12 (see above) looks at the work of the Spirit- empowered Messiah. It is clear from this passage that the Spirit will shape the Messiah’s character from top to bottom. The Spirit will fashion and form the Messiah’s call to do justice, the Messiah’s sense of compassion for the poor and needy; the Messiah’s faithfulness and perseverance; the Messiah’s hope and work to bring God’s Kingdom to the whole world so that all things can be put to rights once more. Where do you need to see the Spirit at work in your life? Where do you need to align yourself with what Jesus came to do?
- Where are you enslaved to sin or greed or pride or hatred? Where are you trapped in your own foolishness and fear? Ricky Maye once said: “Jesus didn’t die to save me from God. Jesus died to save me from myself.” Where do you need God’s Messiah to save you from yourself? From what do you need to be set free?
- How would you describe your prayer life, full of confidence in the sovereignty of God or full of fear, doubt and anger because God doesn’t often move powerfully in response to our prayers?
As I consider these questions, I realize that I fall far short of where I ought to be. That awareness leads me to at least this one conclusion: I need to pray these prayers now more than ever:
“O Root of Jesse;
You have been raised up as a sign for all peoples;
kings stand silent in your presence;
the nations bow down in worship before you.
Come, save us, and do not delay.”
“O Key of David and Scepter of the House of Israel;
You open and no one can shut; you shut and no one can open.
Come, and deliver from the chains of prison
those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.”