O Adonai - an Advent reflection

A reflection on O Adonai .... O Lord

O Adonai, et Dux domus Israel,
qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti,
et ei in Sina legem dedisti:
veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.

In this second of the Great O Antiphons, the appellation Adonai is used. This Hebrew word is commonly used in the Old Testament, where it is usually translated as ‘Lord’ in English Bibles. This reminds us that the sacred name of God, the Tetragrammaton (YHWH), was ineffable (or unutterable) and so writers of Hebrew manuscripts would substitute adonai or elohim. Where the divine name occurs in the Hebrew text, translators will commonly distinguish this by using ‘LORD’ (see the preface to your Bible for more details).

We are also reminded that to see the face of God would be expected to result in certain death. Thus in Exodus 3:6 we read that Moses is afraid to look at God as he speaks to him from the burning bush.

This all gives the impression that the God of the Old Testament is somewhat inaccessible. Yet there was still hope that in dark days God would redeem his people. As the prophet Isaiah relates the word of God ‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine’ (Isaiah 43:1 NRSV).

As we slip into the dark days of winter (unless you are reading in the Southern Hemisphere or more equatorial regions), which may seem darker still this year as we live in the shadow of a pandemic, we too can have hope. We know that God answers the call to stretch out his arm, but as ever God does so much more than we expect. From our New Testament perspective, we know that the Father sent his Son to be with us. Let us prepare ourselves to celebrate the coming of Christ.


In this sonnet by Malcolm Guite, he reflects on how God, who was seen in the burning bush in Old Testament times, comes to us today

Unsayable, you chose to speak one tongue,
Unseeable, you gave yourself away,
The Adonai, the Tetragramaton
Grew by a wayside in the light of day.
O you who dared to be a tribal God,
To own a language, people and a place,
Who chose to be exploited and betrayed,
If so you might be met with face to face,
Come to us here, who would not find you there,
Who chose to know the skin and not the pith,
Who heard no more than thunder in the air,
Who marked the mere events and not the myth.
Touch the bare branches of our unbelief
And blaze again like fire in every leaf. 

© Malcolm Guite, from the Great O Antiphons in Sounding the Seasons, Canterbury Press 2012 www.malcolmguite.com  Used by permission.


Please join now in saying the Magnificat, with the second great antiphon 

O Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel,
who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush
and gave him the law on Sinai:
Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm.

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour;
he has looked with favour on his lowly servant.

From this day all generations will call me blessed
the almighty has done great things for me
and holy is his name.

He has mercy on those who fear him
from generation to generation.

He has shown strength with his arm
and scattered the proud in their conceit,

Casting down the mighty from their thrones
and lifting up the lowly.

He has filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away empty.

He has come to the aid of his servant Israel
to remember his promise of mercy.

The promise made to our ancestors
to Abraham and his children for ever.

Glory to the Father and to the Son
And to the Holy Spirit
As it was in the beginning is now
and shall be for ever

O Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel,
who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush
and gave him the law on Sinai:
Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm.

From Common Worship © The Archbishops Council of the Church of England 2000-2006

Image: Icon of Moses receiving the Ten Commandments with the burning bush depicted at his feet (Saint Catherine's Monastery, c. 1050) By Anonymous - Getty Center website, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1753565