Sunday, December 7, 2014

Matins Canticles for Advent: Isaiah 40:10-17

All three of the Sunday third nocturn canticles set for Advent come from Isaiah, the first of them being from Isaiah 40.

Isaiah 40:10-17
Ecce Dominus Deus in fortitudine veniet, et brachium ejus dominabitur:
Behold the Lord God shall come with strength, and his arm shall rule:
Ecce merces ejus cum eo, et opus illius coram illo. 
Behold his reward is with him and his work is before him.
Sicut pastor gregem suum pascet,in brachio suo congregabit agnos,
et in sinu suo levabit; fœtas ipse portabit.
He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather together the lambs with his arm, and shall take them up in his bosom, and he himself shall carry them that are with young. 
Quis mensus est pugillo aquas, et cælos palmo ponderavit?
Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and weighed the heavens with his palm?
quis appendit tribus digitis molem terræ, et liberavit in pondere montes, et colles in statera?
who hath poised with three fingers the bulk of the earth, and weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance? 
Quis adjuvit spiritum Domini? aut quis consiliarius ejus fuit, et ostendit illi? 
Who hath forwarded the spirit of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor, and hath taught him? 
Cum quo iniit consilium, et instruxit eum, et docuit eum semitam justitiæ, et erudivit eum scientiam, et viam prudentiæ ostendit illi?  
With whom hath he consulted, and who hath instructed him, and taught him the path of justice, and taught him knowledge, and shewed him the way of understanding?  
Ecce gentes quasi stilla situlæ, et quasi momentum stateræ reputatæ sunt;
Behold the Gentiles are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the smallest grain of a balance:
Ecce insulæ quasi pulvis exiguus. Et Libanus non sufficiet ad succendendum,
et animalia ejus non sufficient ad holocaustum.
behold the islands are as a little dust. And Libanus shall not be enough to burn, nor the beasts thereof sufficient for a burnt offering. 
Omnes gentes quasi non sint, sic sunt coram eo, et quasi nihilum et inane reputatæ sunt ei. 
All nations are before him as if they had no being at all, and are counted to him as nothing, and vanity

Much of Isaiah chapter 40 is very well known indeed to most English speakers, courtesy of Handel's Messiah: indeed the chapter's opening verses are the text for its first three numbers (Comfort ye/Ev'ry valley/And the glory), and many of its other verses also get a guernsey.  This reflects the 
fact that the chapter opens the second part of Isaiah, a section which is centred on prophesies of the coming of Christ.

The opening verses of the canticle (vv1-3) announce that Christ will come with a bang and not a whimper: he comes with power and strength, bringing the gift of salvation to his people, those he guards as a shepherd.

This is the coming, the canticle reminds us, of the creator of the universe, the one who holds heaven and earth in his hands (v4-5); the source of all, both physical, intellectual and spiritual (v6-7).

In the face of God, we and all the nations are nothing: mere grass and ashes, our claims to greatness mere vanity (vv8-10).

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