An antiphon is a short sentence sung or chanted before the psalm or canticle in certain liturgical traditions. The seven "O Antiphons" date back to the ancient Church and are used to celebrate the final seven days of Advent, the last week before Christmas. Each O Antiphon is a name of Christ or one of his attributes described in Scripture. You probably recognize them as from the verses of the popular Christmas hymn "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel."
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 darkness
and the shadow of death.
Isaiah had prophesied:
"The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined." Isaiah 9:2
"Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the LORD rises upon you and his glory appears over you." Isaiah 60:1-2 (One of my favorite songs from The Messiah comes from these verses.)
"But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves." Malachi 4:2
Rising Sun. Morning Star. Dayspring.
One of my favorite parts of spring and fall is that I awake right around dawn. In the bleak midwinter (hello today, winter solstice!), it's still dark when I arise; in midsummer, it's already light.
In Albuquerque, we have beautiful sunrises (and sunsets, for that matter). The sky grows slowly brighter and brighter and the mountains take on a rich, dark, purple-black hue, silhouetted sharply against the ever-increasing yellow brightness behind them. And then--slowly yet suddenly all at once--the bright beams lance out, over and down the mountains so you can't see them at all but only the somehow gentle blazing glory of the morning sun.
Maybe some of that exuberant bursting-forth joy of Christmas is gone, now that I'm older. But that quiet, contemplative, dawn-of-a-new-day joy: that I can retain, that I can seek amid all the hustle and bustle and crowds and shouts of raucous laughter.
That's Advent, isn't it? That quiet joy slowly building, the tingle of anticipation growing slowly over the month, so subtle you almost forget and then bam! suddenly, all at once, how-did-it-get-here-so-soon: Christmas!
Sunshine. Can you help but be happy at warm sunshine on your skin, the rosy-clear light of dawn, the sparkle of sunlight on water and snow and tinsel? This is the Christmas Spirit antiphon, I think, more than any other.
On this gloomy dark Midwinter day, think on the sunshine, on the dawn of a new day, of darkness dispelled and cheer, that sunshiny cheer of Christmas.
Oh, come, our Dayspring from on high,
And cheer us by your drawing nigh,
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death's dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!