O Oriens, splendor lucis æternæ, et sol justitiæ: veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.O Dawn of the East, Brightness of the Light Eternal and Sun of Justice, come and enlighten them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.
Some of our favorite passages in Scripture have to do with light:
And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. (Genesis 1:3) “Your word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light upon my path…” (Psalm 119:105) “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.” (Luke 1:79) “The people in darkness have seen a great light…” (Matthew 4:16)
Why do we like these phrases so well that they bubble up within us with the barest prompting? We don’t even know how that happened — we haven’t purposely committed them to memory — and yet, there they are.
“You are the light of the world…so let your light so shine before men…” (Matthew 5:14) “A light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5)
As children we were afraid of the dark, partly because of our imaginations, certainly, but perhaps also because darkness meant separation. Alone in the dark, we have no parent beside us, and shadows loom about what is familiar until we can no longer recognize it. Darkness is disorienting. The flowers that follow the sun simply close up, when darkness comes.
Darkness only has consolation for us if we are seeking separation. The separation can be benign, as in the necessary, restorative sleep that releases us from the stressful day, or it can be deliberate, because we are trying to find safety, or it can be malignant, because we are doing what is wrong in the sight of God, and (usually) the world, too. Darkness is for isolation, or division or apart-ness. It can oppose the light, or expose the light, but it can never be the light we seek when we are awake, when we are safe, when we are living rightly.
No wonder December 21, with its long, overlong night, is the day we call out O Oriens, O Light, come! Depart not from us. We know to whom it is we truly belong, and we invite him to hurry back to us, separated from us no longer: O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.
Tonight, we surrender that darkness we still hold within, that there will be nothing but light between us and the one who is Light itself.