The seven Great 'O' Antiphons of Advent are sung before the Magnificat at Vespers during the seven days prior to Christmas. They are seven words or phrases, mostly in Latin, which look forward to the coming of the Messiah. They have been prayed by the Church since, at least, the 8th century. Today Bishop Earl Boyea reflects upon the fifth “O” Antiphon: O Oriens (O Dayspring). Here is what he says:
The fifth antiphon, sung on December 21, is: “O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.”
The movement from darkness to light is a major desire in all our hearts. To lead that movement is the task of the Messiah. Isaiah had predicted: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who lived in the land of gloom a light has shone” (Isaiah 9:1). Matthew cited this text as Jesus began his ministry in Capernaum. And Jesus’ method of leading was also described: “From that time on, Jesus began to preach and say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (Matthew 4:17).
To move out of darkness, to walk toward and into the light requires repentance. We must renounce the darkness and death. We will only be able to do so if that Light shines brightly ahead of us, drawing us onward. Sometimes, it is only the faint dawn, that simple glow over the horizon, which is present to evoke in us a change of heart. It is a summons to move, to leave one dwelling place and take up another. It is a call to cease walking on one path and follow a different way.
We know that sin keeps us in a land of gloom. Only freedom from sin brings the brightest of lights to shine upon our journey. Isaiah will also say: “Arise! Shine, for your light has come, the glory of the Lord has dawned upon you. Though darkness covers the earth, and thick clouds, the peoples, upon you the Lord will dawn, and over you his glory will be seen. Nations shall walk by your light” (Isaiah 60:1-3).
Sisters and brothers, we are invited into the light, to dwell in that light, to walk in that light. Let us repent and go forth. And then we shall be the light of the world calling forth all others who dwell in darkness and sin.