O Dayspring (O Oriens)

The Great O Antiphon for December 21 is O Oriens, which is often translated, “O Dayspring”. The Latin has within its meaning both the “dawn”, the “morning”, “morning star”, and “east”; it is the word from which we both get “orient” as in the “Orient” but also “orient” as in “orientation”.

The antiphon reads,

O Dayspring splendor of light eternal and sun of righteousness:
come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

I believe the author had the following verses in mind when they wrote the antiphon:

Isaiah 9:2 The people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.”

Malachi 4:2 But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.

Luke 1:76-79 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

As a culture, we have more often been oriented to the West. It is wild; it is the direction of our manifest destiny. We are told by our mother, “Go west, young man”. The West is the future. Having spent a couple of summers in the outdoor drama, Horn in the West, I heard each night the narrator affirm this sentiment with the following words which I recall this way, but am not entirely sure the wording is exact,

“In the evening West, beyond the last mountain peak, slowly dies the sun in a sea of bronze and crimson. In its setting is the majestic assurance that tomorrow will come, that a new day will rise. Always the hopes and dreams of mankind seem to lie not in the East, but in the fiery land of the sunset. The gaze of man is westward, as if he could hear somewhere beyond the great, golden reaches of eternity, blowing in the West, a Horn of Freedom.”

The church however, has not oriented herself to the West but rather to the East. The church looks to the Morning Star and to the dawn. In fact many churches and cathedrals are oriented to the sunrise so that the congregation enters from the West and is facing East when they worship. The West and subsequently the sunset is the direction of the end of day and of life and light. Our secular or mortal mindset is to “eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die”. We grab all we can get because we think there is nothing after, or we do all we can because we believe we can achieve immortality through what we leave behind. Neither of these answers. We long for a new start, a new day, but how will we survive the night which falls before that dawn?

This is a sonnet based upon the antiphon, O Dayspring. If it is helpful, you may listen to me read it via the audio player below.


Facing west, this sunset of humanity
Denies the falling night of death’s looming shadow.
Reality is reviled as a form of profanity
That pilfers the profits, efficiency, workflow.
O Sun of Righteousness, make right and shine
On the dark cruelties of our society’s sins
Whose roots choke our hearts, our affections entwine
And can only be freed when confession begins.

O Dayspring, shine, flood our grey town in light
Drive back the darkness in which lurks our fears.
Dawn! Arise! Illuminate our night!
Speak tenderly in mercy, wipe away all our tears.
When with healing in his wings this Sun rise upon us all,
We shall bound in joy released as a calf from winter’s stall.

© Randy Edwards, 2016.
This sonnet is for Christ’s church. If it is helpful, please feel free to copy or reprint in church bulletins, read aloud, or repost. I only ask that an attribution be cited to myself (Randall Edwards) and this blog (backwardmutters.com). Thanks.

photo: Randy Edwards, sunrise Cherry Grove

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