O DAYSPRING, Radiance of the Light eternal and Sun of Justice: COME,and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.
The following commentary adapted from The Church’s Year of Grace, Fr Pius Parsch (The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, 1959):
Not sacred history but nature inspires today’s “O.” The sun as a symbol of Christ is one of the finest figures in Sacred Scripture and in the liturgy. And never is the metaphor more beautifully worded or more expressive of an entire season’s liturgy than in our present antiphon.
Three metaphors link the Redeemer to the sun:
(1) He is the Rising Dawn;
(2) He is the Radiance of the Light Eternal;
(3) He is the Sun of Justice.
The expression “rising dawn” (aka “dayspring”) occurs in Zechariah 3:8 and 6:12. Perhaps more familiar to Christians from its daily use in the Benedictus at Morning Prayer is the expression “Oriens ex alto,” the “dayspring from on high.” In spirit, the aged priest Zechariah beheld Christ rising as the sun “to enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.” The verse is incorporated in today’s “O.” Christ is the Rising Sun that disperses spiritual darkness and death. From the sun in the sky comes light and life; from Christ the divine Sun likewise comes light and life. Remember how Jesus called Himself the light and the life of the world.
The title “Radiance of the Light eternal” is found in Hebrews 1:3. It is a reference to the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. “Light eternal” is a reference to God the Father; “Radiance of the Light eternal” describes the eternal and consubstantial origin of the Son from the Father. In the Creed, we say, “Lumen de Lumine,” light from light. Thus the antiphon’s first phrase brought out Christ’s relation to the world and to men, while this second one tells of the inner divine relationship of Christ to the Father.
“Sun of Justice!” These words depict the Messiah in Malachi 4:2. Christ is the Sun, emitting the rays of justice (i.e., holiness and grace). What the sun does for the realm of nature, that Christ as the Sun of Grace does for the kingdom of God.
In the closing petition, we ask Christ to enlighten us by His birth. Even in us, the faithful, there is still much darkness, much of death’s shadow. Open your soul and let the divine light shine in!