21 Dec 2010

Advent - O Antiphons - December 21st - O Oriens

Today’s O Antiphon relates directly to the experience of the Solstice, especially — but perhaps not exclusively — north of the equator. O Oriens! The antiphon on the Magnificat for today’s Vespers conjures images not of the evening, but of the morning. As a noun, today’s “O” is Daybreak, Dawn, Sunrise and Morning Star; as a verbal participle it is rising, originating, creating and birthing. Both grammatical forms suggest powerful imagery as we approach the feast of the Nativity of the Lord.

For those who for whom the past few weeks have marked the gradual decrease in daylight hours, today’s Solstice comes as a turning point. It is the beginning of the slow march toward Springtime and Easter. Today’s antiphon, situated on the Solstice, is a liturgical recognition of the change of season: the dawning of a new day, the gradual increasing of the daylight hours, the movement from the “shadow of death” toward the light of life.

For those in the Southern Hemisphere, of course, the slow march toward winter begins again today. Today’s antiphon comes as a promise that, however dark earths seasons may become, light will indeed increase again in time, the cycle repeating itself through the changing seasons, until that “dawn from on high will break upon us” once and for all.

This antiphon also suggests a challenge, by way of a certain anticipated eschatology. Note the connection between the Dawning or Daybreak and the Sun of Justice — “the sun of righteousness” that “shall rise, with healing in its wings” (Mal 4:2). The connection between the coming of the light and the power of healing (here meaning the sort of healing that comes with the Reign of God — wholeness, peace and security, well-being) is found elsewhere in Scripture. Its revelation follows upon our doing of justice, our participation in the making the Reign of God a present reality for the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized and the outcast:
Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rearguard. (Isaiah 58:6-8, NRSV)

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