Light: O Oriens 2015

Two ancient customs give today’s Advent liturgy a unique focus. This morning, at Chapter, there is the Missus Est, a talk based on the words of the annunciation gospel, ‘the angel Gabriel was sent from God’ (cf Luke 1. 26 et seq); then, this evening, we sing the fifth O antiphon, O Oriens. The connection between them is light:

O Oriens, splendor lucis æternæ, et sol justitiæ: veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.
O Morning Star, splendour of eternal light and sun of justice, come and illumine those seated in darkness and the shadow of death.

Usually, at this time of year, we in the northern hemisphere are experiencing cold and darkness. Everything seems dead, and this is or near to, the darkest day of the year. Only the night sky is brilliant with stars and the soft, silvery gleam of the moon. The warm, wet weather we’ve been having recently may dull our sense of the radical nature of what the antiphon proclaims. We may have to work a little harder to understand that the promise of the Morning Star, of the return of light and warmth, is a promise of new life — new life, not just a return of the old one as part of a seasonal cycle. Christ does not come among us in a warm, fuzzy way. The Child in the manger is also the Splendour of Eternal Light and Sun of Justice. He will expose all the sins and subterfuges we prefer to keep hidden. His light will judge us, yes, but it will also set us free because he gazes at us with the eyes of love and mercy.

St Bernard has a beautful image of the whole of creation on its knees before Mary, begging her to give Gabriel the word that would give us the Word made flesh. He sees Adam and all those in the shadows of Sheol asking for the gift of light and life. Today, when we are probably finding life increasingly hectic, we could perhaps stop for a few moments and consider this. The salvation of the whole world hung on Mary’s assent to what the angel asked. God did not force her, nor does he force us; but without Mary’s faith and trust, we would be in darkness still.  If we would welcome the Morning Star into our lives, we too must have faith and trust in the word he speaks to us. Only so can the darkness of our hearts and minds be scattered for ever.

Note: today’s O antiphon, text and music (Flash needed) is available with scripture references here,