O Oriens

<em>O Oriens</em>

“O Radiant Dawn, Splendor of Eternal Light, Sun of Justice:
come and shine on us who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death.”
~~~
O come, Thou Dayspring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine Advent here.
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to you, O Israel!


1.  O Radiant Dawn

Our fifth antiphon comes to us inspired from these words in Isaiah 9🔢

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.

What does it look like to see a great light in deep darkness? Consider these verses from the very first book in Sacred Scripture—the first “chapter” of God’s grand story, inside of which our own stories are being written:

Genesis 1:1-5  In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  2 Now the earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.  3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.  4 And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness.  5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

Now what (or who?) is this light in the midst of but separated from the darkness, when it was not until later—on the fourth day, to be precise—that God created the luminaries to give light? So we read down the page in Genesis 1, about nine verses later:

Genesis 1:14-19  And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years,  15 and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so.  16 And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars.  17 And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth,  18 to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good.  19 And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.

Despite the absence of the sun, the moon, and the stars on days 1-3, there is nonetheless some kind of luminescence emanating from some place. And this luminescence is what provides the light required by the day to be day, here at the beginning of creation.

What might it look like to behold this light—different altogether from the light that emanates from the sun, the moon, or the stars—in the midst of deep darkness, if we would be privileged to do so? Let’s let that question “hover” as we consider a few considerations from the New Testament.


2. O Jesus, Radiant Dawn

Here is John the Apostle, reflecting on the very words and ideas we just read from Genesis. In fact, he starts his first sentence in exactly the same way:

John 1:1-9  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  2 He was in the beginning with God.  3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.  4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.  6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.  7 He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him.  8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.  9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

Whatever luminescence it was—whoever it was—which provided the first three days of light for the newly fashioned creation back in Genesis, this light is about to step into creation.

We of course know that the light to which John is referring is Jesus himself. Having provided the newly fashioned creation with three days’ worth of light before the job was transferred to the luminaries (the sun, moon, and stars), he steps into creation for about thirty-three years, to bring a light into the world that does not have its source in the sun, the moon, or the stars. The light is very nearly vanquished, but after three days, it shines even more brightly than it had. And then the source of that light ascends back to heaven.

But the Apostle John is not finished with this light. The Holy Spirit has more to reveal to him about it, and he kindly shares it with us in the very last chapter of God’s great story. There will be a renewal of the whole creation itself, a resurrection that follows the pattern of Jesus’ own resurrection:

Revelation 21:1-5  Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.  4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”  5 And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

How will this new creation be lit? Much like the original creation’s first three days. Four verses later we read:

Revelation 21:9-11 Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” 10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, 11having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.

And eleven verses after that we read:

Revelation 21:22-26 And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24 By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, 25 and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. 26 They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.

Once again, we may ask: What might it look like to behold this light—different altogether from the light that emanates from the sun, the moon, or the stars—in the midst of deep darkness, if we are privileged to do so?

In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis (Book 3 in “The Chronicles of Narnia” series), the initially unlikeable Eustace—cousin to the main protagonists Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy, high kings and queens of Narnia—is eventually overwhelmed by his own self-absorption, falling into deep depression and darkness. In the middle of the darkest night—a night made especially dark not only by virtue of Eustace’s despair, but too because on this night, we are told, there was no moon—Aslan the great Lion, the son of the Emperor-beyond-the-Sea, walks toward Eustace. And Eustace is somehow able to see him, even without the sun (because it is night) or the moon (because there isn’t one). Aslan is himself luminescent; an intrinsic brightness radiates from him that pierces the darkness that has engulfed Eustace. Aslan is light, and is not overcome by the dark’s overwhelming density. Peacefully toward Eustace and his despair, Aslan draws near.

In The Fellowship of the Ring by Lewis’ friend, J. R. R. Tolkien (the first in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy), Frodo, a simple hobbit, who is specially chosen to carry an extraordinary burden—the ring, whose destruction will signal the deliverance of Middle Earth from the darkness that is overtaking it—is given a great gift by Galadriel:

“‘And you, Ring-bearer,’ she said, turning to Frodo. ‘I come to you last who are not last in my thoughts. For you I have prepared this.’ She held up a small crystal phial: it glittered as she moved it, and rays of white light sprang from her hand. ‘In this phial,’ she said, ‘is caught the light of Eärendil’s star, set amid the waters of my fountain. It will shine still brighter when night is about you. May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out.’”

Indeed all other lights do go out, as Frodo approaches the end of his journey and must walk through his own valley of the shadow of death, as the Psalmist would have told it. And yet into this darkness shines the gift Galadriel had given him who was not last in her thoughts.

~~~

“O Radiant Dawn, Splendor of Eternal Light, Sun of Justice:
come and shine on us who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death.”
~~~
O come, Thou Dayspring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine Advent here.
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to you, O Israel!


3. Prayer & Meditation

We who bear the image of God—for we are made specially in his image—are at times also called to bear burdens of various sorts and sizes. Sometimes these become for us deep wounds, as the ring became for Frodo, and we are made to feel small—last in the order of significance. And yet we are not last in God’s thoughts. And he desires to share himself with us—as a great gift—in Jesus Christ, the light who is coming into the world.

As Jesus walks toward you, and you move toward him in adoration, how is it that he, who is light, means to share himself with you throughout this season of Advent?

December 21