Being a musician, I am particularly sensitive to the hymns of Advent. December 17th traditionally marks the first day of the "O Antiphons" for the seven days before Christmas. Today is "O Sapientia," (O Wisdom). Probably the most famous hymn to include the "O Antiphons" is O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. The wisdom verse often appears second in the hymn:
O come, thou Wisdom from on high,Unfortunately, I have ruined this verse for my children. In my sad little world of nerdy hijinks, I have always thought it enormously amusing to turn near rhymes into actual rhymes. Thus, after singing "O come, thou wisdom from on high," the only way I could possibly sing the second line is "who orderest all things mighti-LIE (which rhymes with sigh, appropriately enough). I once heard that O Come, O Come, Emmanuel works like citrus sorbet in the middle of a meal: if any song gets stuck in your head, singing O Come, O Come, Emmanuel will cleanse your musical palate. (Try it and let me know how it works for you!) The inevitable question always poses itself: what if O Come, O Come, Emmanuel gets stuck in your head? Ah, life's mysteries.
who orderest all things mightily;
to us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go.
One brilliant and bold Advent hymn has worked itself into my heart this season: The King Shall Come When Morning Dawns. Some people say Presbyterian pastor John Brownlie is responsible for the lyrics; others propose the original lyrics were probably in Greek and predate Brownlie. Whatever the case, I trust the Holy Spirit inspired these powerful words:
The King shall come when morning dawns
And light triumphant breaks,
When beauty gilds the eastern hills
And life to joy awakes.
Not as of old a little child,
To bear and fight and die,
But crowned with glory like the sun
That lights the morning sky.
Oh, brighter than the rising morn
When Christ, victorious rose
And left the lonesome place of death
Despite the rage of foes.
Oh, brighter than that glorious morn
Shall dawn upon our race
The day when Christ in splendor comes
And we shall see His face.
The King shall come when morning dawns
And light and beauty brings.
Hail, Christ the Lord! Your people pray:
Come quickly, King of kings!
The hymn begins with a familiar theme: Jesus the King. Anticipating Christmas and Epiphany as we are, Christians easily fetch mental images of our paradoxical king-child lying in an animal feed trough on that first Christmas morn. Yes, we know this king, this fascinating king who will be visited presently by Magi from the East bearing gifts befitting--well, a king.
Abruptly though, the second verse takes us into stranger territory. As my daughter whispered to me Sunday in church after we sang this hymn, "I just realized this song isn't really about Christmas--at all." We are not singing about sweet baby Jesus; we're singing about the end of the world. When the Lord comes again, he will appear not in swaddling clothes, but in his full glory. I get chills contemplating that. I don't know what to do with the idea of the Second Coming. I remember that when Peter was given a glimpse of the transfigured, glorified Christ, he wanted to build a tent. I imagine the Transfiguration scene on Mount Tabor: Peter, energized by the dazzling transformation of Jesus, cannot contain his wonder, amazement, confusion, awe. Why not erect a booth? He has to do something. For me, singing works just fine. I can't think of a better way than song to process "[t]he day when Christ in splendor comes/ And we shall see His face." We know neither the day nor the hour that morning will dawn. Advent reminds us to be vigilant, though. As Jesus says to us in Matthew's Gospel: "Stay awake!" (25:13).
A highly practical tool I use to stay awake is the Morning Offering prayer. Each morning I ask God to accept the prayers, thoughts, words, actions, joys, and sufferings my day will include. As St. Ignatius of Loyola says, God has given all to me; now I return it. My morning offering helps me be vigilant, attentive to God's action in my daily life. Mindful of my morning offering, I am more likely to seek--and to find--God in the people and events I encounter. Many evenings I return to my bed, wearied from the day's labor, and realize what I actually offered to God that day is pathetic. Sometimes downright mortifying. Providentially, we have a God who demonstrates regularly the power to take disaster, abuse, sin, shoddy attempts, and transform them, redeem them.
The Apostleship of Prayer--which popularized the morning offering--knows millions of people around the world make a morning offering in some way. Starting my day with this simple prayer gives me get-out-of-bed confidence that I am part of a global community of individuals connected by the desire to trust in God's providence for each and all. I guess it "takes a village" to get me out of bed. I'm OK with that. I know God loves me like I am the only person on earth, but I'm awfully glad millions of other people can say that as well.
Children can learn the habit of the morning offering, too. Natural learners, children quickly learn to seek God in their thoughts, words, and deeds. Almost every day I talk to parents looking for ways to make mornings less hysterical, more peaceful. We're searching for practical ways to be more intentional in family prayer life. My proposal: try the morning offering! Try it. Just give it a shot for three days, five days, a week. See what happens when the whole family stops. Stops. Stops completely and offers that dawning day back to the one who gave it to us.
This Morning Offering for Children written by the Apostleship of Prayer goes perfectly to the tune of Amazing Grace. Try singing the prayer--really! (True story: the Holy Spirit filters out all the morning croaks and creaks and serves up a beautiful offering fit for heaven.) Send me a message, or comment below to share with others how cultivating the habit of the morning offering prayer can inspire us and infuse meaning into our daily activities.
With the help of the morning offering, may we all be ready on that day---that day the king shall come, when morning dawns.
Picture source: "Winter Morning"