Wednesday, 21 December 2011

O Oriens - The Rising Sun

The 'O Antiphons' are sung according to tradition, during the evening liturgy on the last days of Advent. Each one is a named attribute of The Christ, to whose coming the church looks forward with eager and in these latter days, heightened expectation

It is perhaps no co-incidence that we celebrate O Oriens, O Rising Sun on this day, the 21st of December - Solstice wherever we are - the day the sun stands still. Whether as here in the Southern hemisphere it stands as high in the sky as it will all year, or as in the Northern its height at midday marks the turn towards longer days, the sun's appearing is significant

One of the features of living nearer to the equator as I now do, is the relatively short length of both dawn and dusk. It is not long light here before sunrise and not long after sunset that darkness covers the earth. I know from short experience and wider reading that at or reasonably near the equator this experience is far sharper, the sun plunging close to vertically unto the Horizon and rising perpendicularly with dramatic effect, like the brightest light being switched on in the depths of darkness. And it is this Suddenness of the appearing that is hinted at in the other familiar name for this Antiphon, O Dayspring, remembering the words of Isaiah 

The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined. 

Listening this morning to some Advent reflections by the Fransican Priest, Richard Rohr, I was reminded of a word that seems to have slipped from popular Christian discourse. Perhaps it never was that popular but I am sure it once was more commonly used than in these days. Rohr was talking about how the increasingly and now staggeringly affluent church in the West had got Scripture back to front. We went to the Scriptures he said, for comfort. But that was the last thing we find there - not that it isn';t to be found,. but it is discovered last - the comfort is for those who are first Challenged by the Word, then (and here is the 'old-fashioned' word . . .) Converted by the Word. Those whose only hope is now in Him may find True comfort their, and only they.

Conversion is a word which we use less and less the more and more comfortable we become - we now talk much more readily about faith in terms we might employ of a holiday, or a retirement cruise - it ha become 'a journey of faith' and a very gradualist one at that. If we hear the word Conversion at all it is invariably prefaced by such words as 'Sudden!' or 'Dramatic!'. It is not Usual, or Normal.

Of course the church in the West situated as it is away from the equator is not a place of 'sudden light' and also it is a place where we tend to have insulated ourselves against the reality of the world. Central heating and Air conditioning mean we are never Hot or Cold, Electric light means we little heed the rising sun, or its setting - conditions are neither one thing nor the other. So comfortable are we with the lights we have made for ourselves, we may say that we are not at all far from the Kingdom of God and forget that those are words which we cannot say, for we cannot See - for in reality it is dark, very dark.

In Advent we await the coming of a Saviour, not a therapist

If we will for a moment cease from our remorseless talk, in the Silence we may hear voices from behind a large stone which up until that point we had not regarded. 
We may perhaps extinguish the lights we have made for ourselves to discover how dark things are. After a while it becomes obvious that our eyes will not adapt to this Pitch darkness. 

The voices behind the stone become louder, there is the sound of astonishment.

A voice of command

The Stone begins to move

A Light brighter than the Sun at noonday pours blindingly into our 'place of comfort', 
which is revealed for what it is . . .

A voice is heard, like the sound of many waters

Lazarus, Come Out!

Christ, whose glory fills the skies,
Christ, the true, the only light,
Sun of Righteousness, arise,
Triumph o'er the shades of night;
Dayspring from on high, be near;
Daystar, in my heart appear.

Dark and cheerless is the morn
Unaccompanied by thee;
Joyless is the day's return,
Till thy mercy's beams I see;
Till they inward light impart,
Glad my eyes and warm my heart.

Visit then this soul of mine;
Pierce the gloom of sin and grief;
Fill me, Radiancy divine,
Scatter all my unbelief;
More and more thyself display,
Shining to the perfect day.

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



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