O Antiphons – December 22 – O Rex Gentium – ‘I Am the Good Shepherd’

The Advent Antiphons are said or sung before and after the Magnificat at Vespers each evening of the week immediately prior to Christmas. Each one speaks of an aspect of the One who is to come, Israel’s hope and a Light to the Gentiles.

This set of reflections juxtaposes each of the Antiphons with one of the seven ‘I AM’ sayings of Jesus Christ, the embodied Hope of all Creation – the Word made flesh.

In this video, the Dominican brothers of Blackfriars Oxford sing the Magnificat Antiphon, O Rex Gentium

O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum,
lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum:
veni, et salva hominem,
quem de limo formasti.
O King of the Gentiles, and the Desired of all,
you are the cornerstone that binds two into one.
Come and save poor humanity,
whom you fashioned out of clay.
(Translation from Benedictine Daily Prayer: Liturgical Press)
To most of us the titles ‘Good Shepherd’, and ‘King of the Nations’ sound poles apart. Shepherds are not Kings and Kings are not Shepherds. The Nativity of Jesus seems only to enforce this, as Shepherds come to worship whilst Kings seek to kill and destroy pretenders to their power.
Yet deep in the memory of Israel – the One who is to Come is at once both King And Shepherd, for instance in Psalm 23. Yahweh, Israel’s God and true King, is my Shepherd.
But Israel’s desire for a King had been so that they might be like all the other nations and so Kingly Rule in Israel followed the path it did and the Kings from David down were not a source of blessing and life, but curse and eventual desolation and exile as graphically prophesied and recounted in the Fifth Gospel, the book of Isaiah.
Jesus declaration ‘I Am the Good Shepherd’ takes us straight back to the vision of the Psalm – indeed its imagery of being led by still waters, of the restoration of the soul, of tables being laid for His flock are found all through the gospels.
The One who is also the Gate, is declared to be the Good Shepherd who enters by the gate, whose sheep know his voice and follow Him. The One who does not expect his flock to lay down their lives for him, as human kings do, but rather lays down his life for his sheep – thus exposing the mythical necessity of laying down ones life for the ‘king’. The True King of Israel, the ‘One born King of the Jews’ whose star rises suddenly and without explanation, has come. The Shepherd is amongst his flock.
Yet He goes further – this Shepherd has sheep of ‘other folds’. Israel’s true King is also King of the Nations – the One before whom every knee in heaven and earth and under the earth shall bow, Saving All who hear his voice and Like Lazarus come forth and follow Him.

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