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‘O Oriens’: Christ is the light that dispels the darkness

O Oriens

Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P. | Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Fr. Jacob Bertrand Janczyk, OP - published on 12/21/19

'O Morning Star,' the O Antiphon for December 21, is a prayer for enlightenment.

O Oriens,

splendor lucis aeternae, et sol justitiae:veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris,et umbra mortis.O Morning Star,splendour of light eternal and sun of righteousness:Come and enlighten those who dwell in darknessand the shadow of death.

When we think of Christmas night, we can imagine the darkness and the stillness, the cold and humble accommodations in the stable. And yet, in that darkness shines a single star, brighter than any in the sky, revealing to both shepherd and king that a child has been born in Bethlehem, a child whose sole mission is to save.

O Antiphons

Read more:
The Great O Antiphons, an Advent tradition

However real the darkness of that first Christmas night, and however real that shining star in the sky, their true purpose is to lead our hearts and minds to a greater reality, to a greater truth. True darkness is not simply the darkness of the night, but the darkness of sin. The Book of Proverbs warns against those, “Who forsake the paths of uprightness to walk in the ways of darkness, who rejoice in doing evil and delight in the perverseness of evil” (Prov. 2:13-14).

Since the first sin of Adam and Eve, humans have been plagued by this darkness. We have been trapped by temptation and sin, and even death itself. And this is why we call Christ our Morning Star. He is the Morning Star, he is the light that dawns for us as the prophet Isaiah foretold: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined” (9:2).

Christ himself is the light that dispels all darkness. “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), our Lord tells us. On Christmas, in the year 440, St. Leo the Great famously preached:

Realize, O Christian, your dignity. Once made a “partaker in the divine nature,” do not return to your former baseness by a life unworthy [of that dignity]. Remember whose head it is and whose body of which you constitute a “member.” Recall how you had been wrested “from the power of darkness and brought into the light and the kingdom” of God.

The beauty and power of the light of this Morning Star is that not only does it chase away darkness and its power over us, it also enlightens the mind of those who behold. The light not only allows us to see our Savior, but to know him and to love him. It calls us once again into that right relationship with our Creator. This is our dignity of which St. Leo speaks. This is the dignity to which we are called in virtue of our baptism.

The Christ-child, the light of the world, is born into the darkness of the night and sin. But this darkness cannot contain him. Come, O Morning Star! Call us from the darkness to behold your face!

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