Today is the shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere, and it is surely no coincidence that, being composed in that hemisphere, the Advent Antiphon on 21 December is ‘O Oriens,’ literally ‘the East’ but meaning the Morning Star. The Morning Star is the name given to the planet Venus at the stage of its orbit when it is visible in the night sky before dawn (that is, in the eastern sky – it is known as the Evening Star at the stage of its orbit when it is visible in the night sky after dusk; whether Morning or Evening, it is an exceptionally bright celestial body).
It is also a title given in Scripture to both the fallen angel who is thrown down on to the earth from heaven, and Jesus who also comes down to earth from heaven. As such, it is first attributed to the one who attempted to take God’s throne, who rejected light and set themselves to establish darkness and the shadow of death; and then given to the one who did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking on human frame in order to serve humanity, coming as light that the darkness could not extinguish, but against whom death exhausted itself.
The Morning Star reminds us both that we live in a dark world, and that the dawn is coming. The Morning Star is visible long before the dawn itself arrives; but guarantees that it is on its way. It is a thing of beauty, and of hope.
Domestic lights are a poor substitute, but nonetheless sitting in near darkness lit only by Christmas lights, candles, or a lamp engages our senses, heightens our awareness of the dark around us and the gift of light by which we can see. And so I have chosen to set the fifth Advent Antiphon under the light. (This one happens to be in a conservatory, hanging from the snow-covered glass ceiling.)
O Morning Star,
splendour of light eternal and sun of righteousness:
Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness
and the shadow of death.
Advent: making room for Jesus – under the light.