As a youngster, the version of this antiphon found in the Advent carol ‘O come, O come Emmanuel’, always intrigued me. What was this strange word, sung as ‘add-on-ay-eye’? It was several years before I discovered the answer to this question, buried in the foreword of my Revised Standard Version of the Bible. There it was explained why in the Old Testament, the word ‘Lord’ was frequently printed in all capital letters (in ‘caps & small caps’ to be precise), and occasionally in the expression ‘Lord God’ the word ‘God’ was capitalized instead. This tradition, still followed in many of today’s Bibles, dates back many centuries, or even millennia.
When printed in capitals in this way the word ‘LORD’ represents the occurrence in the Bible of the name of God. In the original Hebrew this is indicated by four consonants (written Hebrew having no letters for the vowels), and variously represented in our own alphabet, perhaps most commonly by the letters I, H, V, and H. But in ancient times this name had already come to be considered too holy to actually speak, and instead the Hebrew word for ‘Lord’ was spoken aloud. And that Hebrew word is Adonaï.
This then, is the meaning of the verse of the carol, and the meaning of the Advent antiphon. Each of the antiphons is addressed to Jesus: and in addressing Jesus as Adonaï we implicitly declare our belief in his divinity: that the baby born in Bethlehem is indeed the incarnation of the eternal God who appeared to Moses in the burning bush, declaring to him his existence and his very name, the divine ‘I AM’. And the salvation that came to the Hebrew slaves, the downtrodden people in Egypt, that salvation is offered to all God’s people right now.
O come, O come, Adonaï!