Religion Magazine

Dawn – an Antiphonal Thought

By Richardl @richardlittleda

Not the end of the world

If you are reading this, then the world has clearly not come to an end, despite what the Mayan calendar might have said. For at least fourteen centuries parts of the church have recited the following O antiphon on this day, 21st December:

Splendour of light eternal and sun of righteousness:
Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

Throughout wars, famines, pogroms, persecutions, crusades and other forms of collective cruelty and madness the church has recited these words. Today they will be said and sung in Aleppo and Altringham, in Newtown Connecticut and New Delhi. They represent the church’s defiant belief in the hope of life to come. Like Zechariah, cradling his infant son in his arms, they are the cry of hope that a new day will come and the sun will rise, no matter how dark the night which precedes it.

Interestingly, they are always sung or said on this day – December 21st, when there is more darkness and less daylight than any other day in the calendar. Hope shines brightest when the world is darkest. Karl Barth once defined the word ‘hallelujah’ as “a defiant nevertheless”. Branches of the Christian church have been reciting this particular defiant nevertheless on the darkest day of the year for centuries.

The selection of an industrial landscape, rather than a beautiful country scene below is deliberate. When I took the photograph I was struck by how beautiful this industrial landscape looked, even with its cranes and masts, against a perfect dawn sky. The radiant dawn comes along with the clutter, not despite it. If you click on the image, you can read another lovely sonnet by Malcolm Guite on this antiphon.

Dawn over Swansea

Dawn over Swansea


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