O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: Come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.
The irony is not lost on me that today’s O Antiphon appears in the Divine Office on the same day as the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. Perhaps it the expression is true that you don’t really appreciate what you have until it’s gone. We praise Christ today with the language of dawning light at a time when it is most absent.
Today’s O Antiphon emphasizes the metaphorical and symbolic significance of light and darkness. It draws our attention to the everyday circumstance of ignorance and death, of confusion and suffering. Christ, the “Radiant Dawn,” is announced as the one who will shed light on the circumstances of confusion and free us from the trap of death, from which no one can escape. We see this in the Book of Isaiah, for instance: “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” (9:2). And while this interpretation is informative and inspirational, today the solstice has me thinking of a more earthly context for understanding this antiphon.
During this darkest of days I find myself grateful for the God whom we praise as the Creator of Light. This has always been one of my favorite names for God. How things change when we move from night through dawn to day; how perspectives and thoughts have a way of shifting into clarity.
The darkness of night—literally and figuratively—has a way of distorting reality and isolating us. Anyone who has faced a sleepless night of restless thinking knows that such turmoil has no comparable analog at noontime.
We cannot eat or breathe or survive without the light of day. I find myself reflecting on the way trees take in the light and, through the miracle of photosynthesis, provide their fellow creatures—us included—with nourishment and fresh air. Indeed, how great is this God who is Creator of Light.
As the sun sets early tonight and rises again at tomorrow’s dawn, may we recall the manifold ways that Christ’s coming might draw our attention to the things we take most for granted—the day, the sunlight, our communities, friends, family, and so on. May this Radiant Dawn we celebrate on Christmas enlighten our hearts to express gratitude for the many gifts that we have been given, but for which we so often take for granted.