O Oriens and Our Need of Light 2016

It is the shortest, darkest day of the year here in Britain but today’s O antiphon shimmers and shines. For the first time since we began the sequence, the coming of God as Saviour and Redeemer is hailed with three dfferent titles, all of them luminous: Morning Star, Splendour of Eternal Light, Sun of Justice. In a world that has embraced the thickest moral darkness we have seen for many a year, that Light is what we cling to in hope and over which we rejoice.

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.

It is a short, ostensibly simple prayer but what a reversal of our usual thoughts and feelings it contains! Many sensitive and kind people are saying things like ‘I cannot have a happy Christmas while people are suffering in Syria’ or ‘how can we possibly rejoice when fear and terror are all around?’ I think that is to misunderstand what this antiphon explicitly teaches, that God will deal with the darkness, in his own way and his own time. What we have to do is to co-operate — and that is harder than it looks, because, of course, we want to be the doers, we want to be the ones who decide. We can and should rejoice at Christmas because the Son of God has chosen to be our Morning Star, our Light in the darkness, our source of justice and healing. It takes a special kind of courage to turn everything over to God, but that is precisely what we are asked to do.

There is another kind of darkness I should mention, the interior darkness of distress and mental confusion that many also experience at this time of year. It is a prison, a shadow, an all-enveloping gloom that causes much pain and suffering, made all the worse because often it cannot be shared with anyone. Loneliness adds to the sense of misery, and frequently there is a sense of failure, too, because, of course, no one actually wants to be ‘down’ or out of step with the season. It is easy to say that from this too Christ comes to redeeem us, but although that is true, it is not a truth universally experienced.

Sometimes in the early morning, when I go into the oratory to pray, everything is dark, as only a house in the countryside can be dark. Gradually, there is a little glimmer of greyness that marks the beginning of dawn. Then slowly, beautifully, light begins to flood the room until everything is transformed. Even the dust sparkles. Our lives are like that. For some, in this life, there is only darkness and the light will come later; for others, probably the majority, the light begins to shine even now, but uncertainly, by fits and gleams; and for a few, a very few, life is irradiated with sunshine from the very first. What we have to hold to is this: the light will come. ‘His coming is as certain as the dawn.’ Indeed, yes: come, Lord Jesus.

ADVENT O ANTIPHONS AND CHRISTMAS NEWSLETTER
If you would like to read more about Advent and listen to the ‘O’ antiphons sung in Latin according to a traditional plainsong melody, with a brief explanation of the texts and references, see our main site, here. Flash needed to play the music files as I have not yet replaced the player with HTML5.

Our Christmas Newsletter is available online here: http://eepurl.com/cukCsr. It has a stunning photo of the sun shining on the earth taken from space.

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O Oriens: light for our darkness

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.

Let us read through Isaiah 9.2; Luke 1.9; Zech 6.12-13; Heb 1.3; Malachi 4.2 and the Mass readings, Zephaniah 3.14-18 (alternative for the day) and Luke 1.39-45, then listen to the antiphon:

This is the shortest day of the year, a day of darkness. All around there is a sense of political, economic and moral darkness, too. We read of the loss of lives in Syria, the effect of tropical storms in the Philippines, the fear that the work of scientists on swine ‘flu could be subverted to terrorist ends, the death of small children the world over because they don’t have clean water to drink. Beside all this our own the anxiety about the Eurozone and the economic structures of the west looks a little indecent, yet we know that for many it means the difference between a job and no job. It is into the heart of this darkness and uncertainty that the gospel comes as light and life. How often do we receive the gospel as Good News? How often do we welcome the coming of God as cause for celebration? Does the birth we look forward to at Christmas makes us want to sing and dance for joy at the nearness of our God? Are we prepared for what that birth demands, the risks we shall be called upon to take? Many of us, I suspect, prefer the dimness of the familiar and safe to the brilliance of the unexpected.

Tonight as we sing the Magnificat antiphon, hailing Christ as Splendour of Eternal Light and Sun of Justice, we shall be reminded that we are children of light, not creatures of darkness. As Christians we are, so to say, professional risk-takers, ready to be light-bearers in any and every situation. It requires effort, of course, just as it required effort on Mary’s part to be a Light-bearer to Elizabeth; but only so can our prayer embrace the whole human race, ‘Come and free those sitting in darkness and the shadow of death.’

A little bit of pedantry
It may spare us a few comments from those who wish to point out that the winter solstice occurs at 5.30 a.m. on 22 December if I remind everyone that liturgically the day runs from evening to evening; so the day that begins at Vespers tonight, embracing as it does the winter solstice, is the shortest liturgical day of the year. I myself would say, let’s not get too hung up on these details: the truth of Christ’s lightening our darkness is what the liturgy celebrates and makes clear.

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