O Dawn

O Dayspring, splendour of light eternal and sun of righteousness: Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

JMJ

And why not? We sing this verse at Vespers on the 20th (in Anglican tradition) or on the 21st (in Roman Catholic and Western Rite Orthodoxy). So it comes either side of the “longest night”, which can fit both the night of the 20th-21st as well as the 21st-22nd. The solstice traditionally being marked on the 21st at sunrise in the cultures of the European North. What has any of that to do with us? It’s totally incorrect to say that “Christmas was a pagan holiday that Constantine’s Church stole. There are a LOT of articles out there about this, but my favorite, and the oldest, I think, is by an old friend of this blog (in a previous incarnation), Dr William Tighe: Calculating Christmas lays out all the reasons that 25 December was not “stolen” and, quite possibly, is Jesus’ actual birthday.

And why not?

I believe Jesus is not only God incarnate but the entire reason for the universe, the sum total of all history and the omega point from which all other events are only typological shadows. The Incarnation was not “Plan B” after a surprising mistake in the garden. God is all-knowing: the fall was expected, the need for salvation understood, and the Incarnation was the idea all along. Christmas – and Easter 33 years later – was the entire point.

The Jews had all of their prophetic history from Abraham until John the Baptist to prepare them for the coming of Messiah. The rest of the world did not have these things. Yet, as Christ was brought to them, they saw the truth and were ready. What prepared them?

And all of nature – including the Winter Solstice itself – is set up by God to point the way to his own glory: the Fathers teach that Nature, herself, is the first Bible. “All the earth is a memorial to thee, a presence of thy works” (Odes of Solomon, 11). And Saint Maximus the Confessor points out that the sun itself is a sign of Christ. ” The Sun that rises and illumines the world, it makes itself visible as well as the objects it illumines. It is the same with the Sun of Righteousness. When he rises in a mind that has been purified, he makes himself scene in addition to the logoi of the objects he has created.”

The Vikings did not have the Old Testament: they had Odin hanging on his tree for wisdom, though, and the Winter Solstice. The Celts did not have the Old Testament, but the entire nation of Ireland converted without bloodshed or protest. American Indians, Aztecs, Mayans, they all saw something they couldn’t reject. The Chinese, too, and the Indians, saw something in this strange, incarnate God from Israel that met their local, already prepared souls. Each one saw something foretold in their cultures, and each one found it fulfilled in Christ.

And why not? If God can work through the Hebrew prophets, the religious leaders of a “stubborn and stiff-necked people,” to bring about the Blessed Virgin Mary and her divine Son, Jesus, then what can he bring about through the rest of us? Isaiah even calls King Cyrus (of Persia) the Messiah! Thus says the Lord to his anointed, (that is “Messiah” in Hebrew) to Cyrus, whom he has taken by his right hand to subdue nations before him and strip the loins of kings, to force gateways before him that their gates be closed no more: I will go before you levelling the heights. I will shatter the bronze gateways, smash the iron bars. I will give you the hidden treasures, the secret hoards, that you may know that I am the Lord. (Isaiah 45:1–3) Elsewhere (I’m having trouble finding it, to be honest…) God says to Israel, I’ve called you, but I’ve also called these other peoples to do other things.” And so God was at work everywhere.

The Church even commemorates Augustus Caesar on Christmas, noting in the Martyrology for 25 December, that the incarnation happened, “in the 42nd year of the rule of Octavian Augustus, when the whole world was at peace”. The traditional teaching being that God arranged even the Roman Empire so that there was a common language, and roads, and trade among all so that the faith could be spread that much further.

So, “you’re only saying Jesus was born now to imitate the pagans.” No, actually, Jesus was born now exactly to imitate the pagans: they’re expecting him.

And why not? He’s their God, too.

O Oriens

+JMJ+
O Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae, et sol justitiae: veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

O Dawn, splendor of eternal light, and sun of justice, come, and shine on those seated in darkness, and in the shadow of death.
This verse gets sung at sunset on the Longest Night of the Year. Light is a big part of the symbolism for this season. While there are different theories for the reason ranging from Jewish traditional piety to aggressively taking over another religion’s holiday, there can be no denial of the liturgical import of the increasing darkness in December and the birth of light symbolised by the winter solstice. Though, sure, this makes no sense at all in the Southern Hemisphere where it’s actually the Summer Solstice, but here in the North, this makes a lot of sense. And so this prayer for light is uttered in the darkness – mindful also that the Great O Antiphons were sung at vespers, in the darkness.
The dawn of God in our life is the beginning.
Step 11 sounds this out:
  • Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His Will for us and the power to carry that out.
We are praying for God to come into our lives and show us what to do – and to give us the awakening we need, as well as the will to move forward. That line “praying only for knowledge of His Will for us” is confusing: far far too often we might hear of prayers that we’ll “Get to win the lottery if it be Thy Will, Heavenly Father.” Or, “Lord, let me marry him, if you will it!” Or, my favourite, “Lord, let us XYZ according to thy will”, which means, essentially, let us do what we want to do and let us be deluded into thinking we have you on our side: you hear this a lot in prayers for soldiers and speeches by political leaders who talk about “Governing according to God’s will”
Fr Joseph once told me we already know what God’s will is.
1 Timothy 2:3-4
This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
2 Peter 3:9
The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.
And Donald made it clear to me once, telling me a story about Will Campbell, that the most radical (overthrowing, revolutionary, etc) verse in the Bible was 2 Corinthians 5:19. Namely, that in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.
The full passage is:
So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
What is God’s will? That all should be saved.
What is God’s will? That we should be ministers of this reconciliation.
There is no other will for us.
I’m clear that God’s will towards this universal reconciliation does take different forms for each of us: but it’s not God’s will that I buy a house unless it leads to the reconciliation of the world. It’s not God’s will that I join the armed forces, unless it leads to the reconciliation of the world. It’s not God’s will that I marry that person over there unless it leads to the reconciliation of the world.This is the 12th Step happening.

  • 12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

The action of Reconciliation is the 12th Step. The restoration of the Net, the inviting of others into the Kingdom. The saving of thousands around you by the acquisition of the Spirit of Peace. 

In other words: there is no plan beyond salvation. The details are up to us. No choice should be made “with eyes to the future”, or with profit in mind or even wondering if there will be food on the table. No plan can be made unless this one question is asked: Is this choice, this plan, this job, this brunch date, this last YouTube posting, going to lead to the reconciliation of more of the world to God; of ourselves with each other?
Jesus points us this way: Love God and Love Neighbour are the same thing, and as we pray for God’s coming in Advent we need to know that God is coming to us every day in the lives of those people around us – on the Subway, on the Highway in the morning commute; in the office, in the school, in the shops of our daily life; in the beloved friend, the spouse, the absolute stranger we meet on the street. We need to see God and be reconciled to him. This is the dawn from on high breaking upon us.
The Church of England’s Common Worship Daily Prayer cycle has these two wonderful Advent prayers that point us in the right direction
Evening
Blessed are you, Sovereign God, creator of light and darkness, to you be glory and praise for ever. As evening falls, you renew your promise to reveal among us the light of your presence. May your word be a lantern to our feet and a light upon our path that we may behold your coming among us. Strengthen us in our stumbling weakness and free our tongues to sing your praise.
Morning
Blessed are you, Sovereign God of all, to you be praise and glory for ever. In your tender compassion the dawn from on high is breaking upon us to dispel the lingering shadows of night. As we look for your coming among us this day, open our eyes to behold your presence and strengthen our hands to do your will, that the world may rejoice and give you praise.
Both ask that God reveal his presence among us – in the eyes of those whom we meet. 

The Empirical Bogey (O Oriens)

Originally published in 2015, this essay is part of a series I used to do annually on the Great O Antiphons of Advent. This Verse will be sung tonight at Vespers and, since this night is the Longest Night, and tomorrow is the Dawn of Summer’s Advent, we sing. “O Dawn”. The church knows when the solstice is, certainly, although it has nothing to do with the date of Christmas. Many parts of the liturgical year are tied (officially or not) to the natural cycle of the northern hemisphere: not just major holidays, but also fasting on the quarter days, the choice of which feast in a Saint’s Life is more important, etc. The liturgical cycle sanctifies time rather than obliterating it. We are manifesting heaven on earth sacramentally, not escaping earth and fleeing to “realms of spirit.” The physical world is being saved, not ignored.


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

O dawn of the east, brightness of light eternal, and sun of justice: come, and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.

This is my favourite of the Great O Antiphons, for entirely non-liturgical reasons: this verse is one of several paraphrased by the Orthodox Anglo-Saxon Poet, Cynewulf in his long poem Crist or, in modern English, Christ.  In Anglo Saxon and in English, the lines run:

Eálá Earendel engla beorhtast
Ofer middangeard monnum sended.
Hail Earendel brightest of angels,
over Middle Earth sent to men.

It was this text that gave J.R.R. Tolkien the name and purpose of his character, Eärendil the Mariner. Oddly enough I learned about the Great O Antiphons (back in 1982 or 83) by reading about this connection with Tolkien and then doing research. That was before I had been exposed to western liturgy beyond Novus Ordo and late 70s ECUSA. It was the dawn of a new world for me – connecting Tolkien’s world that never was with parts of our world that were no longer.

Tolkien and his fellow writer, C.S. Lewis, knew that part of our modern problem is that our world is being destroyed – now, almost a century after their friendship, our world is nearly totally gone. We used to live in a world peopled by angels and located in the middle: not geographically, but mentally, spiritually, between heaven and hell. Now we are more than ever trapped in time, stranded between the past that cannot be and the future that is never. The religion of our culture, Scientific Nihilism, has washed away all connection, all sense of a possibility of connection, replacing a Transpersonal God with what C.S. Lewis called “The Empirical Bogey:”

…the great myth of our century with its gasses and galaxies, its light years and evolutions, its nightmare perspectives of simple arithmetic in which everything that can possibly hold significance for the mind becomes the mere by-product of essential disorder… its flat superlatives, its clownish amazement that different things should be of different sizes, it’s glib munificence of ciphers.

We pretend we have discovered the really awesome parts of the universe, when, in fact, all we have done is let our mind’s impression of the Speed of Light create in us a false sense of awe at mere numbers; numbers which we ourselves invented and to which we attach some sort of quasi-religious content. We become over-awed by generating the emotions within ourselves at our own inventions, as a child might, looking too fondly at a sand castle she has built on the beach.

But we have discarded the Created Order: the reality that is there, no matter how much we ignore it, or imagine we’ve surpassed it. We need the Dawn to show to us all of this.

We’ve got darkness and death again running parallel to light and justice. In the traditional liturgy this gets sung at Vespers on the 21st of December: the Solstice, the return of the Sun. Singing this verse creates the linking of Christ with the rising Sun, very literally in time and space.

A certain sort of political activist will often invoke Jesus as a supporter of “justice”. They do this without irony despite the fact that they would reject a vast majority of what Jesus stood for. They would certainly never call his teachings “Justice”. They make this rejection by saying that Jesus was merely human and often wrong based on the cultural biases of his time. But they are certain that any “outcast” calling for “justice” today would be supported by the Jesus they have invented as easily as science invents big numbers. Justice, in this political dialect, usually means “supporting my political causes and damning my opposition”. Jesus is not invoked as in this Antiphon, as being, himself, the Sun of Justice. God – Jesus – in his person – is Justice.

The Sun of Justice is a line taken from the Prophecy of Malachias 4:1-4

For behold the day shall come kindled as a furnace: and all the proud, and all that do wickedly shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall set them on fire, saith the Lord of hosts, it shall not leave them root, nor branch. But unto you that fear my name, the Sun of justice shall arise, and health in his wings: and you shall go forth, and shall leap like calves of the herd. And you shall tread down the wicked when they shall be ashes under the sole of your feet in the day that I do this, saith the Lord of hosts. Remember the law of Moses my servant, which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel, the precepts, and judgments.

Ecce enim dies veniet succensa quasi caminus: et erunt omnes superbi et omnes facientes impietatem stipula: et inflammabit eos dies veniens, dicit Dominus exercituum, quae non derelinquet eis radicem et germen. Et orietur vobis timentibus nomen meum sol justite, et sanitas in pennis ejus: et egrediemini, et salietis sicut vituli de armento. Et calcabitis impios, cum fuerint cinis sub planta pedum vestrorum, in die qua ego facio, dicit Dominus exercituum. Mementote legis Moysi servi mei, quam mandavi ei in Horeb ad omnem Israel, praecepta et judicica. 

The Justice that Jesus offers is only for those that fear God and do all that he commanded through Moses: they who do so shall tread down all the proud folk who do wickedly as ashes under their feet. But you can’t have God’s Justice for you to do something God has commanded you not to do, for there is no Justice beyond God’s law.

Here again we are being presented with the Empirical Bogey. We are convinced that our minds can discover things and then we invest those things with quasi-religious value. The new Jesus we have at last discovered in our wisdom supports us, not those stodgy religious sorts. Freedom, we have at least discovered in our wisdom, is not “the Free human being who is most himself in the will of God” but rather “I can do what I want.” The Evil One makes us hate what is good for us and love what is bad for us. In fact this is such a good trick of his, that he makes us think the bad stuff really is us. Thus Justice does not mean justly following God’s law and creating civil laws that enable others to do so as well. Justice means, “I can do what I want and you can be punished for thinking, saying, or living as if I shouldn’t do it.

Which is to say that Jesus didn’t teach a “justice” that would have been recognized as such by anyone marching in our streets today. In fact, Jesus colluded with the unjust systems of his day: paying taxes, respecting civil authorities. He makes it rather clear that those authorities would not be there (just or not) if God had not put them there. In the matter of “judge not”, God will judge authorities that act outside of his divine Justice. That’s not for us to worry about (unless you happen to be in political office). Our job, as Christians, working our our salvation in fear and trembling, is to live in God’s Just Law, no matter what the world lives in. Paul, writing to Philemon, does not challenge the system of slavery in the Roman world, but rather he tells Philemon to act in God’s Justice towards his brother in Christ, the slave Onesimus, suggesting even that Philemon will do more (following God’s Love) than Paul even suggests in his letter. Paul doesn’t protest in the streets to change the laws: but he reminds Christians that they have a higher law to follow

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.

So it is with us, today looking at the Antiphon, and for all time. We know that Justice comes from God in Jesus very person. Our secular laws, as such, mean precious little if they do not reflect this. They can be ignored as so many cardboard cutouts. The traditional prayer for civil authorities from the Russian Prayerbook makes this clear:

Save, O Lord, and have mercy on our president and all in authority throughout the world, commanders-in-chief of armies and navies and airfleets, governors of provinces and cities, and all the Christ-loving navies, armies and police; protect their power with peace, and subdue under their feet every enemy and foe, and speak peace and blessing in their hearts for Thy Holy Church, and for all Thy people, and grant that in their calm we too may lead a quiet and peaceful life in true belief, in all piety and honesty.

Civil gov’t is there only to keep the peace so the Church can do her work: this can be done with the second amendment, or without it, with socialism, capitalism or the odd hybrid we now have. As long as there is civil peace the Church can do her job. Be mindful that this prayer was also prayed for the leaders of the Soviet state…speak peace and blessing in their hearts for Thy Holy Church, and for all Thy people, and grant that in their calm we too may lead a quiet and peaceful life in true belief, in all piety and honesty.

From the state all we want is to be left alone. We need Jesus for Justice: which is an interpersonal quality, not a legal standing. All this world – including our gov’ts, our states, the religion of Scientific Nihilism and the Empirical Bogey – are all trapped in darkness and death. We seek the dawn, Earendel, to show us the way out.

A Still Unknown God


Today’s readings:

  • Song of Solomon 2:8-14
  • Luke 1:39-45

In the Douay, the RSV, or in the NABRE with other Mass texts.

O Oriens,splendor lucis aeternae, et sol justitiae: veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.
O Dayspring splendour of light eternal and sun of righteousness: Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

For some curious reason the Alleluia in our daily Mass text is not based on this Antiphon, which is (as proper) sung nevertheless tonight at Vespers. So we’ll stick with it.

I noted yesterday that these two antiphons were of a pair: about being freed from darkness and brought into the light. It is fitting that they should be read on either side of the Winter Solstice, the Longest Night, the night the sun traditionally “returns”. As that sun returns the texts celebrates the real return, the real sunrise: the Sun of Justice, Jesus, dawning on his people.

Yesterday I pointed out our self-imposed entrapment in darkness. Even though the Sun rises on us, we clamp our eyes shut to pretend we are not illuminated.

If we were to open our eyes, what would we see?

Jesus is the Omega point towards which all of history constantly tends. If we were to see it clearly, we’d understand that, of course Jesus was born at the Winter Solstice. Naturally he dies at the Spring Equinox. Of course his mother is named for the Seas. Nature is the first Gospel we have, written in signs and regular processions of events. Those cultures that came closest to the natural order were ready for Christ. It is said the Celts converted easily because Jesus’ Gospel made sense to the Druids once it was explained. Yet not only those who “worshipped nature” but also the pagans of Greece and Rome, the Taoists of China, the Shintoists of Japan, the peoples of India, Central and South America all heard in the Gospel some reality that was prefigured in their faith.

The Jews were prepared to bring forth Messiah and all peoples were prepared to receive him. The light dawns in the East and it covers all the world.

So, for us in our darkness. What is this to us?

As it was in the time of the Apostles so it is for us now. Having received it freely, we are called to freely spread the light. Think of Paul in the Marketplace of Athens, talking to the people who worship “the unknown God”. Paul was able to find a seed of truth in that Athenian temple from which he could grow a Gospel sermon. How do we do that today? Do you know how to address someone with the Gospel starting from where they are, lost in idolatry, in magic, in sex, in politics? Can you preach the Gospel using words crafted by Oprah, Ouija, or Oral Roberts? Who is the evangelist for the Black, the Grey, or the Pink Panthers? Can you bring the light into the darkness that we have today? Who will go to the people of the Gamers or the Goths? Can you bring Christ to those lost in the New Age, or in the tired old teachings of Spong or Tyson? Do you know the Gospel for the internet- or porn- addicted? Who will find the abortionists and suicide doctors? Can you preach to those trapped in racism and hate? How can you bring Jesus to those whom you do not love?

The Dayspring from on high is come to give us the light to reach the world today, to enlighten those trapped in darkness and death. In what function will we shine this light? If we are freed who were trapped in prisons of our own making, what can we do for those around us still enslaved?

O Oriens – 5th Advent Meditation

 Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae, et sol justitiae: veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

 Dawn, splendor of eternal light, and sun of justice, come, and shine on those seated in darkness, and in the shadow of death.


Dawn… it’s the slow realization of the light.

There’s a prayer in the communion preparations of the Western Rite that says, Tibi, Domine, plagas meas ostendo, tibi verecundiam meam detego. “Lord, I show my wounds to Thee and uncover my shame before Thee.”

What does the light uncover in you? Whatever you are hiding from the light, that will be the death of you.

Modern psychology speaks of our shadow side or our darker self as if it were a good thing to confront and live with.  Christianity, however, wants to make us all children of the light – sons of the Father of Lights in whom there is no shadow.  Orthodoxy would go so far as to say that the shadow is what gets burnt up by our God who is a “Consuming Fire”.

Remember, what you are hiding: that will be the death of you.

What is it that gets revealed by the Divine Light? What is it that you throw away to burn?

This is the Orthodox Sacrament of Confession, the holy mystery of Reconciliation.  What you expose no longer kills you: it dies.  But you die, too, a little bit. That part of you that was living, if you will, with a cancerous growth, a parasite dies as well.  This might be a time when “parasite” is the most literally correct word: it comes from Greek roots meaning “along side” and “food”.  A “parasite” is something that we are feeding with our own food – other than our real self.  The parasite is the thing that is eating us: a false self.  Our sinful nature is not really us.  What we do does not define who we are.

What do you bring to the light?