Tag Archives: light

O Radiant Dawn — December 21

Since the 8th century, during the last seven days of Advent, leading to the Christmas celebration, the Christian Church has been singing a set of antiphons that were written as introductory prayers for the singing of the Magnificat at Evening Prayer. They are popularly known as “The O Antiphons” and serve as the basis for the well-known hymn, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” Each day uses a name for the coming Messiah drawn from the messianic hopes of the First Testament. They proclaim the coming of Christ as the fulfillment of God’s promised salvation.

I’m a morning person. It’s my best time of the day. I live in the woods and in these short days and long nights here in the north, I get up in the dark. I make a cup of coffee and go to my desk, surrounded by windows and sit in the quiet. It’s my prayer time, my quiet time, my thinking time. And it’s also a time to watch the day gradually dawn.

The day doesn’t explode into light. It’s a gradual transition from darkness to light. Even though the weather app on my phone tells me the precise time of the sunrise, in actual experience, there’s not a precise time when I say, “ok, the night is gone and the day is here.” Gradually the light overtakes the darkness and almost imperceptibly, the day is here.

During these days of advent, we have stood with the prophets who waited patiently for the coming of the Morningstar, the One which today’s O Antiphon calls the Radiant Dawn.

In the darknesses of my own life, the Light has come. Often slowly, sometimes imperceptibly, but always relentlessly, irrepressibly, the light comes. Into the dark corners of my heart, my life, and into the dark corners of a fear-ridden world, the Light comes.

Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus.

O Radiant Dawn,
splendor of eternal light, sun of justice:
come and shine on those who dwell in darkness and in the
shadow of death.

Muscle Memory

Most Wednesday evenings, I momentarily plunge into a tunnel of darkness.

Thursday is the day they pick up the garbage at our place.  By 6 am on Thursday morning, the two big plastic garbage cans on wheels have to be rolled down our long driveway to the road. Usually, it’s after dark on Wednesday before I get around to it. Close to the house, the sky is open; the same at the road. But in between, there’s a section of driveway that is covered by a canopy of thick cedar branches. So, even when the moon is bright or the stars are out, it is completely dark. I’ve walked it enough times now that I can get through just on muscle memory. Still, for those few moments and those 50 or so steps, I’m putting one foot in front of the other with no visual confirmation that I’m going in the right direction.

I gathered with some of my people earlier this week for bible class. There was a heaviness in the room. We had been together on Sunday morning; there and then we acknowledged the violent week we had just lived through — the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue, the spate of mailed pipe bombs, the shooting at the Kroger store — but no one was able to give voice to their grief. At bible class, we took time for that. Ironically, we were scheduled to study John 6 that morning and began with John’s account of Jesus walking on the water (vs. 16-21). As John tells the story, he does his best to paint a picture of the proverbial dark and stormy night. There’s darkness, a sudden and strong wind, an angry sea, and an absent Jesus. I can’t help but picture John writing to his people for whom the experience of the world was dark and stormy. And the message is clear. In the midst of all that, Jesus comes.

I believe that. I believe that in the midst of all the darkness — and believe me, I feel the darkness. As we run up towards next week’s election, the fear-mongering rhetoric is getting ramped up even more. I wish we could have a break from all of that. But my experience over the past two years tells me that we will not get a break, even after the election. That’s the new normal.

Yet, we live in hope. That’s part of my calling as pastor to remind people that we live in hope. Part of that hope is knowing that as a community of the called, gathered, and enlightened people of God, we know what to do, even when it’s dark. In the darkness, we live from muscle memory. Even when we can’t see the way forward, we know what to do. When we can’t see, we still put one foot in front of the other. We know what to do. It’s the little, common, ordinary things. Love those around us, and love them fiercely. Look out for our neighbor, especially the vulnerable ones. Reach out to the stranger. Do justice. Love kindness. Walk humbly with God.

Wednesday in Holy Week

With the gospel lesson for Wednesday in Holy Week, we are getting a little ahead of ourselves. The reading brings us the intrigue that takes place after what we will read tomorrow on Maundy Thursday, the account of the foot washing Jesus performed for his disciples and his teaching about their performing the same kind of loving service for one another.

Strikingly, the story begins by reporting that Jesus was “troubled in spirit”. That’s nothing new. He said the same thing in the story we read yesterday when he felt the burden of his coming hour of death. The reason for his present agony is the imminent betrayal by Judas. Announcing the approaching betrayal, Jesus wore his emotional pain on his proverbial sleeve while catching his disciples off guard.

When Judas left the room and went out, “it was night!” I suppose it’s possible that the gospel writer was indicating the time of day; but I think there’s something else going on here. Remember way back at the beginning of this gospel, when the author announced that light appeared when Jesus appeared? He even reported Jesus saying, “I am the light of the world.” In yesterday’s reading, after identifying himself as the light once again, Jesus promised his disciples they would become “children of light.” Now with the arrival of the Evil One in one of Jesus’ own disciples, “it was night.” Jesus, the light, was about to enter the darkest corners of human existence. Jesus would allow the prince of this world, the ruler of darkness, to have his moment, brief though it would be.

In fact, while the disciples were baffled that Judas would go shopping at this time of night, Jesus announced the moment for the Son of Man to be glorified and with him for God to be glorified as well. The hour has come for his death, his resurrection, and his ascension—all to the glory of God.

Our attention today is drawn to the plan and purpose of God in sending the eternal Word to become incarnate and live among us. The evangelist interprets the crucifixion of Jesus as God’s deliberate and purposeful act, not a divine resignation to the failure of humans to accept his Son. Jesus’ own motive was not a suicidal desire but a faithful commitment to ensuring that God be glorified.

Indeed, “it was a dark and stormy night.” There’s something deeply theological going on here. Jesus was entering the darkness of human evil, fallenness, and brokenness. We know what the night means — it is the evil, fallenness, and brokenness we experience in our own lives. When Jesus enters our darkness, we can be assured that we are never alone; in fact, it may be in those moments of our deepest darkness that we are closest to the crucified Christ.  In the darkness of the impending doom, Jesus is being glorified and God is being glorified in him. Night will have its moment, but God will have the day.