O Adonai

Jewish traditions have generally been a lot more sensitive to the problems that attach to naming the divine than is modern Christianity. The Lord, the Creator of all that is, lies beyond our speech – it falls to us to name creatures, not the Creator. God is encountered in glory and majesty, as cloud and fire. Here is something outside our ordinary world Our talk of God, then, should recognise its own difference from ordinary speech, and thereby its inadequacy of its object. ‘Adonai’ is a plural of respect, meaning literally ‘Lords’, the plural expresses the majesty of the Lord. Used to replace the divine name ‘YHWH’ when read aloud, it has itself acquired a sense of holiness sufficient for some to replace it with simply ‘the Name’ (HaShem).

The one we long for in Advent is mysterious, beyond our comprehension. The Incarnation (which as the Athanasian Creed reminds us was ‘not by conversion of the godhead into flesh, but by the taking of the manhood into God’) does not change that. Rather, through the humanity of Christ, the mystery of God becomes our mystery, in which we participate by grace.

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.

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