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Good Letters

antiphonsI’ve always loved Advent’s “O” Antiphons. These are the prayers traditionally voiced during the final seven days of Advent, prior to singing the Magnificat at Evening Prayer. Each of these antiphons begins with “O” and is addressed to Christ under one of his names mentioned in the Bible.

They are brief, one-sentence prayers of longing for Christ’s coming—both in the Incarnation and the Second Coming. Each begins with an address to Christ: O Wisdom… O Lord of ancient Israel… O Root of Jesse… O Key of David… O Dayspring… O King of the nations… And finally, on December 23, O Emmanuel. Each ends with the supplication “Come…save us!

This year I’ll add a new dimension to my praying of the O Antiphons. Poet Jill Peláez Baumgaertner has composed a poem for each of these Antiphons (found in her latest volume, What Cannot Be Fixed). I’ll be meditating on her poetic reflections on each Antiphon. In case you’d like to share in this peak Advent experience, I’ll offer below each Antiphon as traditionally phrased, followed by a bit of Baumgaertner’s reflection. (All the ellipses in the poems are mine.)

O Wisdom, proceeding from the mouth of the Most High, pervading and permeating all creation, mightily ordering all things: come and teach us the way of prudence.

Prudence is not a word
we love…

And we inhabit a planet
of uncertainty.
Who is the friend
and where the enemy…?

Now Wisdom speaks,
parsing, separating,
reordering, steering us
from quicksand’s brink,
the enfleshed Word
steady on firm terrain.…

We await him.
Come, Lord Jesus.


O Lord of ancient Israel, who appeared to Moses in the burning bush and gave him the Law on Sinai: come with an outstretched arm and redeem us.

The Law sculpts our sin
in bas relief…

We cannot rest easy
watching Moses…
removing his shoes
on hallowed ground.

Our shoes remain.
We are rooted here…

We crave release,
the spring of warmed
muscles, Adonai’s
arm outstretched…

We await him.
Come, Lord Jesus.


O Root of Jesse, standing as an ensign before the peoples, before whom all kings are mute, to whom the nations will do homage: come quickly to deliver us.

Here in the dust
we are astonished
by the root’s tenacity,
the only life in a ruined
and dead land.
It stirs underground…
the bloom finally
loosening and opening…

We await him.
Come, Lord Jesus.


O Key of David and scepter of the house of Israel, you open and no one can close, you close and no one can open: come and rescue the prisoners who are in darkness and the shadow of death.

Shackled in the obscurity
of our prison, locked in,
solipsistic, we see only
our own sin…

But the promise of release
has been there all along…
There in our baptism
is our freedom.
All we have ever needed
to do is remember it.

We await him.
Come, Lord Jesus.


O Dayspring, splendor of light everlasting: come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.

In December already at four o’clock
in the afternoon, shadows overtake us…
then the darkness…
deepens beyond all imagining,
this darkness of spirit which admits
no glimmer of ray…

and now, finally, is the time for new light—

We await him.
Come, Lord Jesus.


O King of the nations, the ruler they long for, the cornerstone uniting all people: come and save us all, whom you formed out of clay.

The Word that shaped creation
spun the dust, gathered the seas,
carved the clay, sparked the life.

This Word more than the un-Worded
of careless speech. This Word…
the king
who shatters the darkness,
who gives sight, who becomes the bright
fleshprint of incarnation.

This is the remote become immediate…
the birth-marked
Word that created our senses
and opened them. He breathes
on us and we live.

We await him.
Come, Lord Jesus.


O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver, the anointed of the nations and their Savior: come and save us, O Lord our God.

Emmanuel, God with us,
knows what our flesh knows:

the itchiness of wool against skin,
the lingering taste of wine,
the glossiness of leaves after rain,
the press of earth clods underfoot,
the grit of sawdust on hands.

This is the mystery:
King and carpenter’s son…
With outstretched arms
he redeems us, the purple
of royalty and passion
the world’s darkness.

We await him.
Come, Lord Jesus.

The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Written by: Peggy Rosenthal

Peggy Rosenthal is director of Poetry Retreats and writes widely on poetry as a spiritual resource. Her books include Praying through Poetry: Hope for Violent Times (Franciscan Media), and The Poets’ Jesus (Oxford). See Amazon for a full list. She also teaches an online course, “Poetry as a Spiritual Practice,” through Image’s Glen Online program.

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