Saturday, December 24, 2011


       This is the rare year in which an entire week falls between the last Sunday of Advent and Christmas. With this gift of time, we can celebrate the seven verses of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”  These verses are in fact the antiphons of the Magnificat which are sung by religious communities at evensong on each of the seven nights before Christmas Eve. Each one uses an image from the prophecies of Isaiah or Micah. They pose a mandala for meditation: how is God with us?  David wanted to build a house for God, whose presence is limitless and yet who came to house in Mary’s body. Such is the unfolding mystery expounded by Paul to the Romans, and expanded in the songs “Mary, Did You Know?” and “Breath of Heaven.” The Renaissance hymn “Lo, How A Rose E’er Blooming” refers to another image from Isaiah (35: 1).
       I first heard the hymn “Gabriel’s Message” in a multi-track recording by Sting in the first A Very Special Christmas album (with the gold-stamped figure by Keith Haring). He sang the Basque melody (from southeast Spain) in a classic arrangement by Sir David Willcocks which is often sung during the service of Lessons and Carols during Advent. Today’s responsorial Psalm 89, with its references to David and the Messiah, is also appointed to be sung on Christmas Eve.