O King of all the nations, the only joy of every human heart; O Keystone of the mighty arch of man, come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust (Christian Prayer, 133).
We recall that the “O Antiphons” are directly from Sacred Scripture and represent titles of the anticipated Messiah according to the words of the Prophet Isaiah. In today’s sixth “O Antiphon,” the Church pieces together several verses from the Prophet.
First, we hail Jesus as the “King of the Nations.” References to the Kingship of Jesus Christ in the “O Antiphon” are from Isaiah 9:6, “His dominion is vast and forever peaceful, Upon David’s throne, and over his kingdom…” and Isaiah 2:4, “He shall judge between the nations, and set terms for many peoples.” In these prophecies, our Jewish ancestors anticipated a superman to be our savior, a “King David Plus,” if you will. They envisaged a world dominating ruler, a conquering hero that would deliver Israel from its enemies. But there was no grand coronation ceremony with blaring trumpets for our King. Rather, He was born in a feeding trough for animals in the obscure town of Bethlehem. And, as though that weren’t surprising enough, this long-awaited Messiah was no mere superman, but God Incarnate.
St. John tells us in the Prologue of his Gospel, “He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him” (John 1:10-11). They did not accept Him because He was decidedly not what they expected. Because He did not fit within the box of their feeble imaginations, they delivered Jesus to Pilate to be crucified. We recall that fateful scene: “[Pilate] said to the Jews, ‘Behold, your king!’ They cried out, ‘Take him away, take him away! Crucify him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘Shall I crucify your king?’ The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king but Caesar” (John 19:14-15). Caesar was indeed their king because he fit their constrained mold of a king, that is a man of power, prestige, and possessions. Jesus had none of those things. Jesus “though he was in the form of God did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave…” (Philippians 2:6-7). The King of Kings “humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8).
This is the example of Kingship that the Lord provides us with and, for those of us who are faithful to Him, it is a source of strength. As St. Paul tells us, “For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength” (1 Corinthians 1:22-25, emphasis mine). Indeed, Jesus appeared as a fool on the throne of His cross (cf., Matthew 27:40-43).
But this stumbling block for non-believers is the cornerstone of the faithful. The second part of the “O Antiphon” for today identifies our King as the “Keystone” of humanity Who formed us “from the dust.” Christ as the “Keystone of the mighty arch of man” is from Isaiah 28:16, “a precious cornerstone as a sure foundation; whoever puts faith in it will not waver.” The architectural analogy of Christ as Keystone is an interesting one. The keystone was invented by the Romans between 1000-500 B.C.E. It is the uppermost stone that is placed last to lock the stones in place allowing the arch to bear the weight. To identify Jesus Christ as the Keystone of the “arch of man” implies three things. First, it demonstrates in a creatively backhanded way the foolishness of the Gentiles alluded to by St. Paul in the aforementioned passage, for the keystone was their great innovation. Second, it clearly communicates that Jesus Christ is the apex of humanity, as the keystone sits at the very top of the arch which it upholds. Third, in making this comparison with the keystone, we find that “the King of the nations” unites the human family, allowing us to be a dwelling place for Him. St. Paul writes, “…You are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone. Through him the whole structure is held together and grows into a temple sacred in the Lord; in him you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:19-22).
Only this Keystone can bear the weight of the human family in such a fashion as to unite them all harmonious. Therefore, only with this Keystone at the center and apex of the human family will the divisions which constantly plague us cease, a message made clear by the verse from O Come, O Come, Emmanuel based on this “O Antiphon”:
O come, O King of nations, bind
in one the hearts of all mankind.
Bid all our sad divisions cease
and be yourself our King of Peace.
The King of Nations is the King of Peace that unites the human family undoing all divisions as St. Paul tells us, “He is our peace, he who made both one and broke down the dividing wall of enmity, through his flesh” (Ephesians 2:14).
Finally, in the last line of the “O Antiphon” we hear an echo of Genesis 2:7, “then the Lord God formed the man out of the dust of the ground…” and reference to Isaiah 64:7-8, “…Lord, you are our father; we are the clay and you our potter: we are all the work of your hand.” Petitioning the Messiah to “save the creature you fashioned from dust” clearly identifies the One Who Is the Keystone as the Creator Who was in the beginning and through Whom “all things came to be…” (John 1:1-3). God Himself would be the long-awaited Messiah. He would save His people by “coming in human likeness and” and being “found human in appearance” (Philippians 2:7), which would prove contrary to expectations. God Incarnate would then “become obedient to death, even death on a cross” and He would be exalted as “every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Philippians 2:8-11).
To proclaim such a Truth, as discussed in our December 19 reflection of “O Root of Jesse” and our December 21 reflection of “O Radiant Dawn,” is to become members of the family of Jesus Christ (cf., John 1:12) and, in this way, the human family is re-created. We are one united people of God, citizens of a Heavenly Kingdom (cf., John 18:36). This is not to say we are homogenous, but rather, since our membership is not of this world, it transcends political distinctions, making it possible to incorporate peoples from every race harmoniously in the one Kingdom of God. In fact, the Church celebrates unity in diversity as we read in Lumen Gentium:
Since the kingdom of Christ is not of this world the Church or people of God in establishing that kingdom takes nothing away from the temporal welfare of any people. On the contrary it fosters and takes to itself, insofar as they are good, the ability, riches and customs in which the genius of each people expresses itself. Taking them to itself it purifies, strengthens, elevates and ennobles them (13).
And we would expect nothing less from the Keystone Messiah, the King of the Nations and Prince of Peace, than to unite all to Himself. For He uttered a prayer that no earthly ruler whose power is based on political struggle would dare utter:
I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me (John 17:20-21; cf., Colossians 1:20).
This long-awaited Messiah has zero interest in the political games of this world, He desires the good of the people He once formed from the dust of the earth, not political power over them. As the season of preparation comes to a close, may we make the King’s prayer our own so that, however imperfectly, beginning here and now, all the nations may anticipate the unity of that heavenly and eternal Kingdom by uniting their diverse voices in one exultant hymn of joyful praise that only Christmas brings, “God is with us.”
Your sister in Christ,
Vanessa Crescio is an accountant with the Archdiocese of Saint Louis. She holds an MBA from the University of Notre Dame and an MTS from Newman University. She is interested in thinking through co-responsibility in the Church and developing leadership programs to form Catholics to serve the Church with not only their knowledge, skills, and abilities but with the servant heart of Christ.