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O Antiphons: O Radiant Dawn 

This Sunday is the Second Sunday of Advent, and the “O Antiphon” we consider this week is the Lord’s Messianic title, “O Radiant Dawn.” This antiphon reads the same both for Vespers and at Mass:

O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice:
come, shine on those who dwell in darkness
and the shadow of death.

The Latin is “O Oriens,” which can mean “rising” and “dawn,” so sometimes this is translated, “O Rising Dawn.” The Antiphon tells us of a radiance of the rising dawn, a splendor of light that is eternal, a “sun” who is justice and righteousness – the Messiah – who will dawn upon our darkness, shadows, gloom, and death.

Isaiah prophesies, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shown” (Is 9:1; quoted at Mt 4:16 as fulfilled in Christ). And, “Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily” (Is 58:8). Malachi 3:20 (4:2 in some versions) says, “But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings.” This is the source for the messianic title, “Sun of Justice” in the Antiphon (the same Hebrew word can be translated justice or righteous), and both passages combine the image of dawn and sun with the healing the Messiah will bring.

Isaiah continues, “Then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be [become] as the noonday” (Is 58:10). And in the following well-known messianic prophecy, note how many times the images of rising, light, glory are present, along with the contrast of darkness and mourning: “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you.... The sun shall be no longer be your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give light to you by night; but the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory.... [T]he Lord will be your everlasting light, and your days of mourning shall be ended.” (Is 60: 1-2, 19-20.)

The O Antiphon not only quotes Isaiah and Malachi, but also their NT fulfillment per the words of Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, when he speaks of the coming of the Messiah: “In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Lk 1:78-79). Similarly, the NT book of Hebrews speaks of Christ as “the radiance [refulgence, reflection] of the glory of God,” which alludes to the canticle of God’s Wisdom: “[Wisdom] is a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty ... a reflection of eternal light” (Wis. 7:25-26). And Jesus says it directly: “‘I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life’” (Jn 8:12). St. John put it this way: “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (Jn 1:4.)

And so we want to ask again this Advent, O Radiant Dawn, O Refulgence of God’s Splendor, O Light of the World: shine into our darkness and gloom! Bring us your healing! Bring us your Life which is eternal!

Dibby Green

Originally published in the print edition of the Mojave Desert News  dated December 3, 2020.
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