Advent 2014: ‘O Oriens’
“We are nearly there”; as a child, these were very comforting words, when sitting in the back of the car after a long journey: “We are nearly there, look for the signs”. So I looked for the familiar markings in the landscape: the church-tower, a mill, an old manger. When I saw those signs, I knew that we would be home soon. I think we all have similar signs that we look for when we are travelling home.
The Gregorian Chant set for today, the fourth Sunday of Advent, is giving us some signposts as well. It tells us what to look for in the readings we hear today. The Introit, Rorate Caeli, is a plea to the earth to open up to receive it’s Saviour: “Aperiatur terra et germinet Salvatorem” we sing. Thereby the theme of today’s liturgy is introduced. Are we ready to receive our Saviour?
In the First Reading, from the second book of Samuel, we hear how king David thinks that he has to build a house for God. But in a dream God tells the prophet Nathan that He does not need a house. God does not depend on the king’s favours. It is God who hands out the favours. God reminds Nathan that it was He, who took David from shepherding the sheep in the pastures to become a leader of His people. David did not make himself king, God did. God has chosen David to become part of his divine plan, and has remained close to him ever since.
The Gradual then repeats the theme of God’s faithfulness and nearness. At the same time, it opens the theme up to include all of us: “Prope est Dominus omnibus invocantibus eum, omnibus qui invocante eum in overstate.” God is near to all who call Him, all who honestly call to Him. Notice the emphasis here, through repetition, of the theme of “all who call Him”. Our God is not an exclusive God. He is not only there for David, but He is God for all who honestly seek him.
The second reading, from Paul’s letter to the Romans, extends the theme of God’s loyalty yet again. He is a God to be made known to all the nations. Now the secret is out. And what a great secret it is. And so, in the Alleluia, we respond, we plead God to wait no longer to come and release us from our sins: “Veni, Domine, et noli tardare: relaxa facinora plebis tuae.”
And God does respond. In today’s Gospel we hear how God plans to come near to us. And when Mary is told by the Angel Gabriel of God’s plans, she is puzzled, but does not argue. Whereas king David, in the text that follows after the first reading, when being told by Nathan of God’s plans says “Who am I?”, Mary is in a way more confident when she says “Here am I, let it be done according to your word”. She trusts God, she is open to his plan and thus able, as first among all of creation, to receive the son of God, our saviour.
And what does that mean for us? Well, if we were still unclear about God’s message in todays liturgy, then the Communio reveals the secret in full: “Ecce virgo concipiet, et pariet filium, et vocabitur nomen eius Emmanuel.” The name of our Saviour echo’s through the ages, it reminds us of God’s closeness to David, the name of our Saviour is “Emmanuel”; God with us. With all of us, all who honestly call upon him.
And how do we respond? This year we will respond with fireworks. Why is that, you might wonder? Well, it so happens that, because in Oxford we celebrate Mass and Vespers combined, straight after the Communio, the 0-antiphon for the day is sung, followed by the Magnificat. And this year it happens to be the antiphon for the 21st of December “O oriens, splendor lucis aeternae, et sol justitiae…” (O Morning Star, splendour of light eternal and sun of righteousness…). So, after hearing of the promise of Emmanuel, God with us, the light breaks into our existence. And what a bright light it is: morning star: sun of righteousness.
The night is ending, the moment is coming, our Saviour is near. It is not long now. We are nearly there. We can see the signs. A virgin, a bright light, an old manger. We will be home soon.