Since the time of the early Church part of the observance of Advent has been the chanting of the O Antiphons before the Magnificat during Vespers (Evening Prayer) from December 17 to December 23, a period known as the octave before Christmas. Each of the O Antiphons refers to a title of the Messiah, and a messianic passage from the Old Testament.
Consider the O Antiphons a kind of mini Advent Calendar, each a window opening up a different perspective of God.
Here are the seven titles, or first words of each in Latin, followed by the English: O Sapientia (O Wisdom), O Adonai (O Lord), O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse), O Clavis David (O Key of David), O Oriens (O Radiant Dawn), O Rex Gentium (O King of the Nations), and O Emmanuel (O God with us)
During Advent we will reflect on the O Antiphons, not during the Octave before Christmas, but over the entire Advent Season.
The first is O Sapientia or O Wisdom.
O Wisdom, O holy Word of God, you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care. Come and show your people the way to salvation.
In Isaiah Chapter 11 verses 2 and 3 we find: “The spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the LORD, and his delight shall be the fear of the LORD.”
Here we find the basis for the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit, with Catholic tradition following St. Jerome’s substituting piety or Godliness for the second reference to fear of the Lord. The Hebrew word used here yirah, actually refers to reverence or awe, a holy fear, as opposed to the fear that means dread or terror which is pachad, a different word entirely. Thus it refers back to the antiphon’s reference to “you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care.”
In the Hebrew Scriptures wisdom sees God alone as truly wise. It appears as a person accompanying God in his creation (Proverbs 8). In Job wisdom is seen in God’s mysterious management of human history. There is no true wisdom without fear of the Lord (Proverbs 1:7). Wisdom is seen as God’s word (Sirach 24:3). Much of the wisdom literature in the Old Testament has to do with how to succeed in daily living (Proverbs) but wisdom is seen as a moral as well as a practical way of life. St. Thomas Aquinas sees wisdom as the strength to choose the spiritual over the material.
Like the people at the time of Isaiah, we live with turmoil and uncertainty. And, like them, we long for God’s wisdom to come and teach us the “way of salvation.”