The O Antiphons: O Lord . . . save us


December 18:
O Adonai (Isaiah 11:4-5; 33:22):
“O Lord and leader of Israel, you appeared to Moses in a burning bush and you gave him the Law on Sinai. O come and save us with your mighty power.”


From the Rev. Beth Knowlton:

The teaching assistant in my Old Testament class in seminary was Jewish.  It gave her a wonderful engagement with the texts we were studying.  She questioned us deeply nd was able to give a very different perspective on both well-known and more obscure scriptures. One striking habit was her refusal to speak the name of God aloud.  If a text had the name of Yahweh, she always replaced it with the title Adonai.  She said it was a practice to prevent taking the name of the Lord in vain and showed respect for the holy nature of God, which was too great a mystery to name.

In the season of Advent we step with more intention into a mystery we cannot fully name.  To call upon Adonai in these days of preparation is to ask for the wisdom to see the presence of God in places we might not expect.  We pray to have the attentiveness of Moses.  We seek the burning bush and commit to pace ourselves, even in the midst of activity, in such a way that we cannot help but see it before us.  As we are moved by its holiness, we remove our shoes and give thanks for holy ground.

We may wonder how we can be struck anew by this presence in a world that can seem so dark.  How can we find a burning bush when we see wildfires burning out of control, lingering damage from hurricanes, and revelations in the news that can only leave us wondering at the stain on the human experience?

Into this space, too, enters the call for Adonai. When we see only darkness, we ask for a saving power that is just as mysterious as a name that cannot be uttered.  We claim hope.  We gather our experiences of the holy like sacred treasure and trust that they point to the true nature of God and the world of God’s creation.  We participate in small ways to bear that hope to those we encounter.  We witness burning bushes in community and honor the holiness they bear.  As Elizabeth Barrett Browning so beautifully wrote,

“Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God,
But only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.”


The Rev. Beth Knowlton is rector of St.Mark’s Episcopal Church in San Antonio TX. Reach her at

Photography by the Rev. Doug Earle. See more of Doug’s work at


The O Antiphons recall the prophet Isaiah’s several descriptions of the coming Messiah. We recognize them as the verses of the well-known Advent hymn O Come O Come Emmanuel. During the seventh and eighth centuries, these descriptions were compiled into antiphons and were recited before and after the Magnificat during Vespers or Evening Prayer for the seven evenings preceding Christmas.

We present these O Antiphons from December 17 to December 23 along with meditations from writers across the diocese and the photography of the Rev. Doug Earle.

For more about the O Antiphons click here.

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