We’re quickly approaching the Second Part of Advent.

That’s not a casual phrase I’m using to describe the coming of Christmas. It’s a long-standing custom of the Catholic Church that’s been part of our liturgical season of Advent since at least the eighth century.

Although it is tied to specific calendar dates, it’s more about the liturgy itself. Every year from December 17 to 23, we see a slight change in the daily Mass readings. The Gospels are now taken from the infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke, reminding us that Jesus soon will be born. Now the First Readings are taken from the Hebrew scriptures and are chosen to match the Gospel.

For example, notice that on December 19 the First Reading is taken from the thirteenth chapter of the Book of Judges. In it, Manoah the Danite’s wife, who is barren, is told by an angel that she will conceive and bear a son. She did indeed give birth to a son, and named him Samson. Samson became a legendary Israelite warrior.

In that same day’s Gospel, we hear about the angel’s appearance to Zechariah, a priest of the tribe of Judah and cousin-in-law of Mary of Nazareth. The angel predicts that Zechariah’s barren wife, Elizabeth, would conceive and bear a son. The son was named John and he became the greatest prophet of them all, predicting the coming of the Chosen One.

That’s just one example. All of the eight days of the Second Part of Advent have the same sort of association between the First Reading and Gospel. They’re more than just amazing stories, however; they tell of our heritage as Christians and are well worth time in meditation.

There’s something else that changes during December 17-23. We sing what’s become known as the “O! Antiphons.” They’re called that because they each begin with the word “O.” They’re taken from the Magnificat canticle of Evening Prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours and symbolize the longing for the promised Savior. They use beautiful, ancient imagery from Old Testament times to tell their story.

Here they are:

December 17

O Wisdom of our God Most High,
guiding creation with power and love:
come to teach us the path of knowledge!

December 18

O Leader of the House of Israel,
giver of the Law to Moses on Sinai:
come to rescue us with your mighty power!

December 19

O Root of Jesse’s stem,
sign of God’s love for all his people:
come to save us without delay!

December 20

O Key of David,
opening the gates of God’s eternal Kingdom:
come and free the prisoners of darkness!

December 21

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

December 22

O King of all nations and keystone of the Church:
come and save man, whom you formed from the dust!

December 23

O Emmanuel, our King and Giver of Law:
come to save us, Lord our God!

I love them all, and make it a point to work them into my daily prayers even if I don’t pray the Liturgy of the Hours. But my absolute favorite is the antiphon from December 20:

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

Dawn is the expectation of a new day, it brings forth God’s goodness and illumines the world. Once dawn breaks, nothing can be hidden because the sun banishes the darkness. A radiant dawn fills the earth with brilliant light, making even the impossible seem possible.

There’s another side to it, of course. The O! Antiphons are metaphors for Christ, each one extolling his awesome qualities. When we take this marvelous imagery, and apply it to our Lord, we have verses of hope and love.

The Radiant Dawn rises to light our way and replenish our souls with the graces of salvation. The brilliant Sun gives encouragement to the righteous and exposes the wayward path of those who live in darkness. He delivers justice to those who choose death’s shadow and heralds life for those who seek his resplendence.

He is, and always will be, the Radiant Dawn.

And he is coming to deliver us from the grip of evil.

Christmas is fast approaching, and I’m sure we can feel it in all the hubbub happening around us. It’s time to finish your shopping, complete the decorating (if you haven’t already), plan your Yuletide celebrations, and send out the cards.

It’s also time to make certain that you don’t lose your focus on the Dawn that approaches. You, me, we all need to take time to consider what the liturgy is telling us.

We need to foster the O! in our hearts.

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Follow the Daily Readings on the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website at this link: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/

Pray the O! Antiphons on the USCCB website at this link: http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/prayers-and-devotions/prayers/the-o-antiphons-of-advent.cfm