The O Antiphons ("The Great O's")
In some churches and faiths, the week before Christmas marks the final preparations. The people gather each evening for Vespers with prayer and singing emphasizing the Advent theme of the hope, expectation, and longing for the coming of the Savior. Some families prefer to worship privately in their own homes. The "O Antiphons," dating from the seventh or eighth century, are seven poems or verses, usually chanted or sung, before and after the reading or singing of the Magnificat, or Canticle of Mary (Luke 2:42-55, UM Hymnal, no. 199). Historically, a different antiphon was used each day of the week leading to Christmas Eve. All seven of "The Great O's" may be found in The UM Hymnal, no. 211, along with the familiar Advent hymn, "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel," which uses the antiphons in its verses.
Sunday school classes or families with children may enjoy making an "O Antiphon House," similar to an Advent calendar but with seven windows. Behind each window is a different symbol for each of the antiphons, and an eighth window for the Nativity scene. Each day during worship or devotions, a different window is opened to uncover the symbol. The symbols of the antiphons, in the order presented in The UM Hymnal, are:
* O Emmanuel — tablets of stone
* O Wisdom — oil lamp, open book
* O Adonai — burning bush, stone tablets
* O Root of Jesse — vine or flowering plant (rose)
* O Key of David — key, broken chains
* O Dayspring — rising sun
* O King of the Gentles — crown, scepter
Daily readings for this period are at the Episcopal Cafe. Wikipedia has an article explaining the practice. NPR's All Things Considered reported on the O Antiphons in this old broadcast.
You can listen to the hymn printed below here or here.
O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.
O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
Who orderest all things mightily;
To us the path of knowledge show,
And teach us in her ways to go.
O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory over the grave.
O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
O come, O come, great Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes on Sinai’s height
In ancient times once gave the law
In cloud and majesty and awe.
O come, Thou Root of Jesse’s tree,
An ensign of Thy people be;
Before Thee rulers silent fall;
All peoples on Thy mercy call.
O come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Bid Thou our sad divisions cease,
And be Thyself our King of Peace.