Sunday, December 21, 2008

Advent 2008 - December 21 - O Rising Dawn

Come O Rising Dawn!

December 21 (the winter solstice) Four more days: O Oriens (O Rising Dawn)

O Oriens,
splendor lucis aeternae,
et sol iustitiae:
veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris,
et umbra mortis.

(translation from Fr. Britt)

O Orient, Splendor of the Eternal Light, and Sun of Justice: COME and enlighten them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.

(another version)

O Radiant Dawn,
splendor of eternal light,
sun of justice:
come, shine on those who dwell
in darkness and the shadow of death.

Today is the winter solstice, and it is quite appropriate to have the Rising Dawn as the symbol of our Lord today. No wonder that St. Francis puts the Sun first in his great Canticle of the Creatures, calling him "Sir Brother" and says this:
How beautiful is he, how radiant in all his splendor!
Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.
What a gift - think about it. We have been given a star for our use... and GKC echoes St. Francis in strange and touching words:
There was a stranger who was also a friend; a mysterious benefactor who had been before them and built up the woods and hills for their coming, and had kindled the sunrise against their rising, as a servant kindles a fire.
[GKC The Everlasting Man CW2:396]
Hard to imagine, God getting up early, way before any of us are awake, and stoking the nuclear furnace with some nice fresh hydrogens - but that is what He does... it is OURS for our use... A big ball, just burning away... So, so, so generous is God!

Yes, and so let us consider something very illuminating today: let us turn to the famous story called "It's a Wonderful Life" - which I am sure you already know by heart.

You can tell this is a serious story since the first words are a prayer - "Joseph, Jesus, and Mary".... I was surprised to learn that according to the "script" the two heavenly voices are not supposed to be God (the Father) and St. Joseph, but that's too bad for the script writer, since no other names make any sense anyway. I always thought it quite natural that God would not call any of His court "Saint", and that St. Joseph would call him "Sir"... There is a curious bit of speculation about angels "earning" their wings, except that this does agree with the general sense of authentic writers of angels: they did have to undergo a test, as we do. We have no time today to go into that, though it might be fitting to mention that the best guess seems to be that they were required to adore God the Word, the second Person of the Most Blessed Trinity, who "emptied Himself" [Philippians 2:7] incarnate as the single-cell God-Man Jesus, within the virginal womb of Mary.... Satan refused, and so the story plays out, much as it does for Clarence, who has to make a choice as well. Very interesting.

It would be lots of fun to explore this movie from a Chestertonian perspective, but it was done some years ago in "Gilbert!" magazine by Dale Ahlquist (or so I seem to recall...) But there are a couple of things to mention which might be overlooked (if Dale mentioned them I cannot recall, but it is worth exploring again...)

First, the line about "Anytime a bell rings, an angel gets his wings" - this might be right out of Dante. (You know, there are TWO OTHER parts to his Divine Comedy and they are much, MUCH better than the part everybody reads!) Yes, in the second section on Purgatory, we learn that a thrill goes through all of the mountain every time someone makes it to the top, and finishes his sentence... it is SO fitting, and so lovely - and so biblical: "I say to you that even so there shall be joy in heaven upon one sinner that doth penance, more than upon ninety-nine just who need not penance." [Lk 15:7] As Dante reveals, the mountain shakes, and all stop what they are doing, and chant the great Te Deum of praise and thanks to God - indeed, all creation rejoices, though we in our fallen state hear nothing of it. It is far too loud for us to hear, alas. But the angels and saints - and yes, even the other penitents - they hear, and rejoice. Yes, George Bailey, that's quite true, and we can imagine a modern Aquinas quoting this movie in his explanations of this truth.

Second, the grand, GRAND scene at the end, which recalls all the characters - yes, we even see "Potter" (NOT Harry! Harry is George's brother, hee hee) for a moment, as George runs by his bank and raps on the window and wishes his antagonist a Merry Christmas - yes, even to Mr. Potter! But in the warm old Bailey home all the good characters gather, and each puts in his contribution, much as the King collects the talents in the parable. We find absolution - not emphasized, but strongly assumed, as George and his family are reconciled after his rancor earlier in the evening. We find song and friendly talk - the "natural noisiness at a great moment" that GKC states is fitting for Christ, based on His own words about the racket on Palm Sunday! We find laughter - for the Bailey Benefactors (like Clarence) can take themselves lightly. We find all the warmth and delight of GKC's "Inn at the End of the World"... "Mr. Martini - how about some wine?" Of course: for thou hast kept the Good Wine until now. [Jn 2:10] And the sheriff tears up the warrant, and even the bank examiner puts in an offering... and there is a delight of laughter and song and warmth and light, as the town rejoices in the good works of George Bailey.

We even find Zu-Zu's petals.

That's important, because yo9u see it proves that the promise of the "new heaven and a new earth" [Rev/Apo 21:1] is real, and means this earth, as much as the wounds in our Lord's risen body persisted... we've got to know for sure that it's real. The restoration shall be a renewal, not a replacement!

Only Potter is not renewed. He has George's eight thousand dollars, and so by his own choice he is left outside - in the cold and silence and darkness. (And so is his servant - remember, his servant could have told the truth about the money, and refused to do so.)

Today, as we swing around perihelion on our annual journey, close to the Sun yet tilted away from it, let us recall that our judgement is only upon our works, done for the least of our brethren - we have our Lord's word for that, repeated in words beyond any doubt of intention. [Mt 25:31-46] If we are to live that way, we need His light and warmth - and the assistance of angels and our fellow men. O Sun of Justice, O Rising Dawn, O Light of the World, give us Thy light!


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