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Before we ponder the “O” Antiphons during the days before Christmas, let us reflect upon their author, Isaiah, the prophet of the Holiness of God.

Well educated, knowledgeable of his times, familiar with intricacies of the Hebrew language and the prophetic tradition, gifted in public speaking, familiar with royalty and the court, Isaiah was a pious man, husband and father. The year was 740 B.C.E.

While Isaiah was serving in the Temple, the vision of six burning ones, called seraphs, terrified him: he knew he was in the presence of Yahweh. He also knew what was coming: the call to become a prophet, but only with his assent. It had happened to others. Yet uncleanness sifted his hard-won virtue into soot.

The story continues: one of the seraphs took a pair of tongs, scooped up a burning coal from the brazier, touched Isaiah’s lips, then said, …your iniquity is purged.  

Then came the question from within the smoke: Whom shall I send? Who will be my messenger?

With no hesitation, Isaiah said, Here I am. Send me. Others had received such callings to guide His wayward people into the way of love and obedience, according to the Mosaic Law. He would, too.

And work Isaiah did until his martyrdom under the idolatrous Judean King Manasseh, forty years later.

Yet, because Isaiah’s person and preaching were so compelling, devotees continued his prophecy, adding sixteen more chapters to the Old Testament Book that bears his name.

From this lowly prophet Isaiah—an unparalleled witness to the Holy—we savor the names of God embedded in the Great “O” Antiphons of Advent. Their inspiration lightens the darkness.

Like a leaping dancer in a hooded red mask, a splash of brilliance scrambled about the rain-striped bark of my London plane tree. Outside my kitchen window, a red headed woodpecker, in search of insects, drew my wonder, its claws securing its back-and-white winged body on its vertical walk. Then it disappeared.

Upon awakening, I never planned to experience such showmanship. The image still lingers in my imagination, evidence of Higher Power’s intrusion into my doldrums from last night’s restlessness. Occasionally, I’ve heard red headed woodpeckers drilling nearby, but never on one of my trees, and not this close: A reminder of the liveliness of on-going creation, both within and without, if I pay close attention.

Creator God arranged this synchronous instant with the red headed woodpecker, the perfect antidote to November’s mist engorging the morning air and my psyche; and with it, the miracle of fresh words to play with.

I’m grateful …

Something red flickered, gentling the branch of the viburnum shrub outside my study window: It was the cardinal, its feathered crest bespeaking authority. Mesmerized, I sought its spirit. For a split second, turned inside out in riotous colors, it happened. Then, I was alone, the branch slick with raindrops still trembling from its visitor.

I had been visited. Its import would be revealed. I’d just have to listen.

Earlier in the morning, I wondered whether I was still eligible for hospice, given Medicare’s second benefit period winding down. I was still performing my ADLs, albeit more slowly, still managing with helpers in my home, still content with new learning each twenty-four hours. Yet imperceptibly, I was still losing ground. The steroid, at first helpful with my symptoms, was less effective, rendering me weak and lightheaded. Breathing still limited my endurance, increased my need to pace myself, and messed with coughing up phlegm during the day.

“Of course, Liz, you still meet the criteria for hospice,” Alice said later as she wrapped the blood pressure cuff around my upper arm. “We’ve also gotten to know you these past months—you’re doing very well—and you know to call us whenever you need help with personal care.” Often, she had offered this additional service. I brightened with her words, seeping into vestiges of denial still lurking within my psyche’s depths.

So again it was about acceptance, deeper than previously experienced. I felt its sweet release. This was working out, literally one day at a time. I only had to show up and keep an eye out for the cardinal, my backyard companion and teacher.

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