A reflection on “O Adonai” by Jake Wells (Class of 2014, UC Berkeley, B.A. Philosophy)
O Adonai, and Leader of the house of Israel,
who didst appear to Moses in the flame of the burning bush,
and didst give unto him the law on Sinai:
come and with an outstretched arm redeem us.//
O Adonái, et dux domus Israël,
qui Móysi in igne flammæ rubi apparuísti,
et ui in Sina legem dedísti:
veni ad rediméndum nos in bráchio exténdo.
Today is the second day of the Great Antiphons. As you can see above, there is no translation from the Latin into English of the word Adonái. This is due to the fact that Adonái is not a Latin word; it is a Hebrew word. Adonái is the word the ancient Jews used to replace the Sacred Name of God — typically spelled YHWH. They would pronounce “Adonái”, which means Lord.
And yet we are still left wondering why this particular Antiphon is in the Holy Church’s Divine Liturgy today. It is almost entirely a reference to the God of the Old Testament. With this concern in mind, let us consider what it means in the context of Advent.
Advent is a time of preparation for the coming of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In these few days leading up to Christmas, this preparation is meant to be extremely intimate – a time of permitting the Risen Christ to enter into our hearts and souls to heal us from all our infirmities. Indeed, Christ became incarnate of the Blessed Virgin Mary not only to save us from our sins, but also to fulfill the law of the Old Testament!
“Do not think that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets, but to fulfill.” (Matthew 5:17)
In this passage, Christ says “I am come”, and it is for this coming that Advent prepares us: the coming into the world of the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ.
Advent prepares us for the coming of Jesus. We know this already. But why does this Antiphon “O Adonái” have Hebrew words and references to the Old Testament in it?
The answer: Advent is the very time in the Liturgical Year in which Christ has not yet come! At this time of year, we remember a time in which the world was still waiting for the first coming of Christ, a time when it was through the prophets only that we could know God. At this time, God was literally “The God of Israel”. He came to Moses in the burning bush to save His people from slavery in Egypt, and gave His law to Moses on the heights of Mount Sinai.
Now, everything that has been said is precisely why the Antiphon is as it is: Our God – the Blessed Trinity – is the same God of the Old Testament. Before the time of Christ, the Jews only had the revelation handed down to them by the prophets. Even the Blessed Virgin Mary, before the Angel Gabriel came to her, knew only of this incomplete revelation.
When was this to change? With the coming of the Messiah, of the Anointed One, of the Christ. This is the Coming for which we wait now – the Coming of Christmas.
Instead of a magnificent burning bush or a powerful thunder cloud to part the Red Sea, God comes as a vulnerable child.
Instead of tablets containing the law, God gives us His Own Word, His Son, Jesus Christ!
And finally, instead of sending death to the Egyptians or an ark to save man, God sends His only Begotten Son as ransom for our sins, Who now sits at the Right Hand of the Father, waiting earnestly to come again.