5. O Morning Star O Oriens

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

Criss-mass!

My Miss F at two and a half doesn’t understand much about Christmas. But as we pass houses brashly covered in flashing decoration and trees more delicately decorated with fairy lights, she points and exclaims, ‘Criss-mass!

She doesn’t understand the story, Mary and Joseph, angels and shepherds but she does know that the lights are ‘Criss-mass!’ Perhaps she understands what Christmas is about more than I know.

The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
    on them light has shined. Isaiah 9:2

Throughout Scripture, God is described using images of light. It is in Christ that this divine light has a human face. As Hebrews 1:3 puts it, Jesus is ‘the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being.’

1 John 1:5 reads, ‘God is light’

The servant of God is described by Isaiah as ‘a light to the nations’. (Isaiah 42:6)

Jesus is ‘the light of all people’ (John 1:4) a ‘true light which enlightens everyone’. (John 1:9)

Jesus describes himself as ‘the light of the world’ (John 8:12)

This antiphon, however, uses the specific image of Oriens– dayspring, morning star, dawn. This is describing Jesus as a particular kind of light. It is a light that comes after a period of darkness, a light that extinguishes the darkness that comes before it.

Christ is coming as dawn to our darkness.

‘The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
    on them light has shined.’

If you go to a nine lessons and carols this Christmas, you will no doubt hear this passage from Isaiah 9. It’s my favourite Advent passage. The writer is referring to Israel being freed from the Assyrians. But, centuries later, Simeon sings these words afresh. He praises God for coming and setting his people free. (Luke 1:78-79) Simeon takes these words of old and uses them about Jesus. He has waited for this light, he sings of how he can now die in peace because God has answered his prayers of seeing the Messiah.

As Christians we continue this wait for the dawn. We wait for Jesus to return again. As the Psalmist puts is,

‘my soul waits for the Lord
    more than those who watch for the morning’

But what is this light that we are waiting for? Malachi writes, ‘But for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings.’ (Malachi 4:2)

Malachi uses the image of a burning sun bring righteousness, justice, to the world. But, this sun doesn’t just bring purifying heat, it also brings healing.

Today we pray to Jesus, our Morning Star, our hope in the depths of our darkness. We ask in confidence that his light can penetrate whatever night surrounds us. We ask him to return, to bring both justice and healing to our world.

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

*** The majority of my reading around these Antiphons has been from William Marshall’s book,  O Come Emmanuel: Devotional Study of the Advent Antiphons. It’s been an invaluable resource. If you’d like to read more about the root and symbolism behind these great prayers do hunt for a copy.***

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