Advent 2: 9th Dec “O Dayspring”
Readings – Genesis 32.22-31; John 21:1-12;
On this the 2nd Sunday of Advent we continue our look at the O Antiphons’ – the names for Jesus traditionally used as the refrains to the Magnificat in the service of Evening Prayer during Advent.
This week we’re looking at the name ‘O Dayspring’… a reference to the dawn, the beginning of the day.
The traditional Advent refrain to the Magnificat at evening prayer:
“O Dayspring, splendour of light eternal and sun of righteousness, Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death”
And the prayer used throughout the year during Morning Prayer:
The night is past and the day lies open before us; let us pray with one heart and mind… As we rejoice in the gift of this new day, so may the light of your presence, O lord, set our hearts on fire with love for you now and for ever.
It has to be said firstly that morning can be a time when sadly on awakening we are reminded of the reality of the loss of loved people or things – but today I want to focus on the positive emotions morning can bring.
The foregoing prayers speak of the relief of the arrival of the morning after the darkness of night: light to see by; warmth after coldness; being connected after the isolation of the night; breaking the fast – re-fuelling, refreshing; washing, cleansing; colour after blackness; ‘reality’ after the night’s dreams and imaginings…
The Genesis reading concerns the night before Jacob’s return to his brother Esau. In the night he wrestles with someone (it’s not clear who this actually is) and just before daybreak, having prevailed against his opponent despite a serious wound, Jacob receives a blessing. Not in spite of his struggle in the dark, but because of it. He is left maimed but blessed.
The set reading for this week is actually Luke 3.1-6, John the Baptist’s call to people to “Prepare the way of the Lord” meaning to examine ourselves, our lives, and get ready for God to come among us – in the form of the Christ-child as we celebrate every Christmas – but also in the form of God’s Spirit entering our lives afresh with healing and mercy and generosity and peace and joy. ‘Prepare the way’ – an important message, as we start to prepare for the annual festivities, that the coming of God is there for everyone not just at Christmas but at every moment of every day of our lives.
Yet in John 21 we see an alternative way of looking at things: In the gospel the time is morning, just as day is breaking, and Jesus after the resurrection, is acting out, as it were, what he has just accomplished by his death and resurrection – turning the whole idea of religion and faith upside-down; not our dependence upon our goodness or faithfulness or hard work; not our having to clear the way for him – but God’s gift of love given in the form of Jesus Christ, clearly shown for what it is – accessible, gracious, unconditional. And now the call to ‘come and have breakfast’ – the dawn has broken and along with it the power of darkness – and now it’s time to break the fast – prepared, servant-like, for his friends, as we celebrate whenever we share the bread and wine of communion as we shall shortly be doing here.
Morning… the time when fevered minds that are clouded by doubt or disease or despair are enlightened. In David Rhodes’ book Faith in Dark Places, he writes about ‘The Great Darkness’ – those times when God seems far away and prayer of any kind is difficult and we wrestle with our fears, our problems, all those things that in the darkness seem impossible to fathom; and like Jacob at the ford of the Jabbok we may wrestle with our demons and even our God, – as the story from Genesis shows, sometimes it’s difficult to tell the difference.
…and Daniel O’Leary in “Passion for the Possible” writes, “Naked trust in God alone is a rare, beautiful and final state of soul… it is promised to those who believe that in the depths of winter we finally learn that within us lies an invincible summer ” –
So maybe it’s not just that summer is nice and warm and comfortable and we want to avoid, or at best just shudder through winter, making the best of a bad job. It’s in the winter that the promise becomes apparent; it’s in midwinter that we celebrate Christmas! And maybe in our imagery of dark and light, night and morning, it’s not just that dark is nasty, bad, or whatever, and light is nice and good; Meister Eckhart wrote,
“In the middle of the night there was spoken to me a word, a secret word…”
Jacob at the Jabbok in the night wrestled with God and was rewarded – injured, yes, but rewarded and when the day was breaking he received the blessing – not in spite of the night but because of it.
Jesus on the beach preparing breakfast for his disciples does so not in spite of the events of Golgotha, certainly not in denial of them, but through them – because of them.
So the name of Jesus ‘O Dayspring’ is not just a happy, bright, sweet title – it’s a recognition that without the night there would be no dawn.
As the dawn brings freshness and warmth relief and enlightenment, so Jesus the Dayspring brings these things to us. The prayer, again, from Morning Prayer: ‘As we rejoice in the gift of this new day so may the light of your presence set our hearts on fire with love for you now and for ever’.
As we rejoice in Jesus the Dayspring bringing us the gifts of God’s grace, of life and light and relief… so may we be fired up with love – mercy, forgiveness of others, grace, – in other words to be like Christ – be to other people like the dawn breaking, bringing to others all the feelings that the breaking dawn brings to us.
And one final word – one of the marks of God’s Spirit is Joy. Thinking about the state of the church generally and some of the sad and tragic events in the world around us, I was reminded of a profound quote from Khalil Gibran’s book The Prophet where he talks about the universally-recognised feelings of warmth and joy that morning evokes; how we need to remember these sentiments!…
…‘In the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter and the sharing of pleasures, for in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed’.