“O Adonai, Come” (Advent sermon series on the O Antiphons, by Pr. Charles Henrickson)
This is the second in an Advent sermon series on “The Seven Great ‘O’ Antiphons.”
“O Adonai, Come” (Exodus 3:1-15; Revelation 5:1-14; John 8:48-59)
Today we continue with the second of the seven O Antiphons of Advent, “O Adonai.” You can see it there in your hymnal, opposite Hymn 357, and it is also printed in your bulletin. Let us pray that antiphon together: “O Adonai and ruler of the house of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the burning bush and gave him the Law on Sinai: Come with an outstretched arm and redeem us.”
I suppose the first thing to ask about this antiphon is, “What is this strange word, ‘Adonai’? That’s not English, is it?” No, it’s Hebrew, actually, and it means “lord,” “my lord” or “master.” And really, “Adonai” is a substitute for another Hebrew word, “Yahweh.” And “Yahweh” is the name of God. Let me explain.
You heard the reading from Exodus 3. Moses is on the mountain, Mount Sinai, also called Horeb, and he sees the burning bush. God calls to him from out of the bush and gives him an assignment, which we will get to a little later. And then we read:
“Then Moses said to God, ‘If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, “The God of your fathers has sent me to you,” and they ask me, “What is his name?” what shall I say to them?’ God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ And he said, ‘Say this to the people of Israel, “I AM has sent me to you.”’ God also said to Moses, ‘Say this to the people of Israel, “The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.” This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.’”
Now here’s where we get to this “Yahweh,” “Adonai,” “LORD” business. When God is asked his name, he says, “I AM WHO I AM” or simply, “I AM.” From our perspective, then, we would say, “He is.” And the Hebrew way to say, “He is,” is “Yahweh.” However, the Israelites regarded the name of God as so holy, they would not even pronounce it out loud. So wherever they came across the divine name, “Yahweh,” they would substitute, and say aloud, the word “Adonai,” which means “Lord.” They would see “Yahweh” and say “Adonai.” And so it came to be, in your Old Testament, that wherever the divine name “Yahweh” occurs, the word “LORD,” in capital letters, is used in the English translations.
So “Adonai” equals “Yahweh” equals “LORD.” It is a way to say the name of the one true God, the Almighty God who created the heavens and the earth, the God who speaks to Moses at the burning bush.
But now remember, in these seven O Antiphons, we are using these titles, including Adonai, to refer to Christ, the one whose coming we are expecting. What are we doing, then, when we call Christ “Adonai”? Well, to begin with, we are asserting his divinity, his deity, that he is true God in his person. Christ Jesus is the Second Person of the Trinity, the only-begotten Son of God from eternity. This is who is coming to us at Christmas, God in the flesh, the almighty, eternal Son of God, born as the babe of Bethlehem. That’s the first thing, that calling Christ “Adonai” is to acknowledge his deity.
But to call Christ “Adonai” says even more than that. It tells us that he is true God, yes, but it also tells us what kind of a God he is toward us. That’s what God is doing at the burning bush, isn’t it? And here I want to make three points. When we pray this antiphon, when we call Christ Adonai, we are saying that he is the God who reveals, the God who remembers, and the God who redeems. Reveals, remembers, and redeems.
First, Adonai is the God who reveals himself. To know God’s name means that God has first revealed himself to us. Otherwise, we would not know who God is. Oh, we might know that there is a god or gods up there somewhere. That’s pretty obvious. Nature, conscience, and reason all tell us that there must be a God who created all this, and that we are accountable to him. But that wouldn’t tell us who God is, how he is disposed toward us, how we can get right with him. Just to know that there is a God up in the heavens is not saving knowledge. Even the demons know that much, and they tremble with fear.
No, we need God to reveal himself to us, in order for us to know him aright. And that is what God giving us his name does. He makes himself known to us, who he is, what he is like, how he acts toward us. When God takes the initiative and tells us “Yahweh,” “Adonai,” or later, “Jesus Christ,” God’s Son–now we know who God is. We have a name we can attach to God. We know who he is, for us. Adonai is the God who reveals himself.
Second, Adonai is the God who remembers. He is the God who remembers his covenant, his promises. We see that at the burning bush. God’s people, the children of Israel, were in bondage down in Egypt. They were crying in distress, groaning under their oppressive burden. And God hears their cry and remembers his covenant. He remembers his promise that he made to father Abraham, that he would make of him a great nation, and bless him, and bring his children into the Promised Land. That was the covenant the Lord God had made with the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But after Jacob, the Israelites found themselves in slavery, in Egypt, far away from the Promised Land. Would God remember the promise he had made to the fathers hundreds of years earlier?
He would. That’s what Adonai of the burning bush tells us: “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. . . . I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey. . . .”
Yes, the God who identifies himself as Adonai, Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob–this is the God who remembers his promises and acts on them. And so God’s promise to deliver not just Israel but to redeem the whole world, all nations–God would not forget that promise, either. Out of the line of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob would come the child of promise, the seed of Abraham, Jesus Christ, the fulfillment of all of God’s promises. “All the promises of God have their yea and amen in him.” God is faithful, Christ is faithful, and he has not forgotten you, my friends. He will rescue and redeem us at the last.
And that brings us to the third point: Adonai is the God who redeems. He redeems his people. The Lord God acts in history to redeem and rescue and deliver his people from their distress. That is why Christ is coming, to be our Redeemer. We were in bondage to sin and Satan and were unable to free ourselves. But just as God acted to deliver the people of Israel, so he acts to deliver us. For Israel, it was the blood of the Passover lamb on the doorpost that spared them from death and set them free from their oppression. For us, it is the blood of Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. God himself, in Christ, sheds his own blood to set us free and to bring us into new life and the Promised Land. Hallelujah!
We call on Christ as Adonai to praise him for the redemption he comes to bring at Christmas, by coming in the flesh to rescue us from the bondage of sin, the tyranny of Satan, and the curse of death. He comes with an outstretched arm and redeems us. Indeed, it was Christ’s outstretched arms on the cross that brought it to pass. By his suffering and death on the cross, the holy blood he shed for us there, our sins are forgiven, death passes over, and we are delivered. Christ has risen from the dead and leads us out, leading the way for us through the wilderness of this world. And he will, at the Last Day, bring us up and into the Promised Land of heaven.
“O Adonai, come.” When we call Christ “Adonai,” we are saying all this: We are saying that Jesus Christ is true God, the only Son of God from eternity, the Second Person of the Trinity. And more than that, we are praising Christ as the God who reveals, remembers, and redeems.
Christ as Adonai reveals God to us, so that now we know him. We know who God is, so we’re not just guessing, groping in the dark. We can know for sure what God is like and how he is disposed toward us and how we are put right with him.
Next, Christ as Adonai remembers his promises to us. He has promised to be with us always, until the close of the age, and he has promised then to return and bring us into everlasting life. He will not forget his promises. He will not forget you. He is Adonai.
And lastly, Christ as Adonai is the God who redeems us. He acts in history to deliver on his promises. By his death and resurrection and his coming again, Jesus Christ sets us free from our slavery to sin, he gives us new life–a new way of life, suitable for God’s people–and eternal life. You and I will join the multitude around the throne, singing and giving him the praise, honor, and worship due only to the Lord–to Adonai, the God who reveals, remembers, and redeems.
“O Adonai and ruler of the house of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the burning bush and gave him the Law on Sinai: Come with an outstretched arm and redeem us.”