Saturday, December 21, 2013

O Oriens

O Oriens, splendor lucis æternæ, et sol justitiæ: veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

Dayspring, Brightness of the everlasting light, Sun of justice, come to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death! 

Here we pass from the darkness of O Clavis to the breaking dawn of O Oriens. The hope which was latent in the previous antiphon emerges, as it were, into the full light of day. That image is important to me because, all too often, I'm tempted to focus on what has gone wrong and what could go wrong in my life, rather than those flashes of light which remind me that God is still working in the world.It is easier to sit in the darkness sometimes 
than to seek out the illumination which this Antiphon seems to promise. That sounds a bit crazy,
I know, but, for many years, I've thought this to be the route to realism because if one didn't expect good things, there would be no need to be disappointed if they don't come. And, if I'm to be honest, I have to admit that I am still tempted to think this way sometimes.

Yet, this light is compelling. It is the dawning light, breaking through the darkness. It is the sun which disperses the fears of the night and reveals a world where the good and bad can be seen and sorted out. It is a light which doesn't set, but lasts forever. It is the light of the New Jerusalem, which needs neither sun nor moon because God's glory is enough to keep it lite. It is the promise of a life lived openly with God and in harmony with Him. If Jesus is the light of the world, isn't this the kind of light that we expect Him to be? Advent is a season when we both remember and await the coming of Jesus, so is it surprising that we also sing of the breaking dawn of his coming in this antiphon?

What is more, I don't think this dawn light is something from the indefinite future which most of us assign to the second coming of God. It isn't the spotlight on the 'pie in the sky when we die', but rather this light breaks into our lives in unexpected and awesome ways. It breaks in during the difficult times, when help comes from an unexpected direction. It breaks in when we speak with a wisdom we don't really have, but somehow have discovered how to say. It breaks in when we take a look at our lives, not with the lens of what is missing, but with the lens of what is filling it with good things. My own experience with this light has convinced me that the world, however flawed, is still a world filled with mystery and grace which goes all the way back to God's creative energies. It commands my gratitude for what is. That changes the polarity of my thinking from the negative place I defaut to, expecting and fearing something bad will soon happen, to a positive hope that the graces that I see around me will only grow, eventually, to overcome the negative things that linger in the world. Gratitude and hope is a reasonable response to the coming of dawn, any dawn. How much more so with this dawning of this eternal day of God's kingdom! We live at a awkward time in history, in between the deep darkness of a night which seemed like it wouldn't end to the glorious beginnings of a joyous day which will not end. The sun is coming up at last. 


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