The O Antiphons are a series of chants traditionally used across the final seven days of Advent. Each one is based on a particular characteristic of Jesus; the chant for 21st December is called O Oriens, or O Dayspring; you can hear it sung below.
Tonight will be the longest night, the night we’re furthest from the sun (here in the northern hemisphere at least). It’s cold, the darkness draws in, and astronomy becomes metaphor. We cycle through the season, springtime and harvest, summer and winter, but we can be wary about that awareness – what if the spring doesn’t arrive, what if the nights don’t get shorter, what if, what if, what if… It sometimes can feel like the night will go on forever, with the dawn nothing but a cruel mirage. Maybe this sounds like hyperbole. Maybe it sounds like truth.
“Do not be afraid” sang the angels, echoing one of the refrains of the Christmas story, but in days like these it’s easier said than done. And that puts some responsibility on those of us who should be listening out for the angels – to make it a little easier for people not to be afraid, to offer our words or our writing, our hugs or our debit cards, our protest songs and our break-up songs. And I have no idea where I fit in with all this, because I’m trying to see the light, trying to see it beyond my cynicism, my pessimism, my depression. But here’s an idea, An image, a metaphor – if the Spirit has been pictured as a dove and a goose, then maybe this Christmas the Spirit can come as a robin. Cheesy imagery maybe, but maybe also a twist on iconography that can give us eyes to see. Heaven knows we need to find ways to tell our stories anew.
One of my favourite carols is O Little Town of Bethlehem. I think that’s mainly for these words:
Yet in thy dark streets shineth,
The everlasting light.
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight.
There’s a lot of hope wrapped up in that stanza; the idea that the light shines in the night and that the night has not overcome it, that faith and fear can be flatmates, that Christmas brings with it the promise of a better tomorrow, even if the journey is tougher than we’d want. The streets of Bethlehem were dark, but the morning was on its way, and that reminds me of a line from another carol: “Light and life to all he brings, risen with healing in his wings”. Because ‘wings’ is a an old metaphor for the rays of the sun, daybreak emerging from the horizon, a new dawn coming bringing light to the dark streets, bringing a better tomorrow.