Advent Antiphons in a Sci-Fi Key: December 21 – Radiant Dawn

December 21, 2014
Galadriel from the Hildebrandt Brothers' 1978 Tolkien Calendar

Galadriel from the Hildebrandt Brothers’ 1978 Tolkien Calendar

The Lady Galadriel who rules the forest of Lórien, is renowned for her beauty (among other traits, including her wisdom and mercy). Gimli the dwarf deems her fairer than “all the jewels that lie beneath the earth!” In his Unfinished Tales, Tolkien describes Galadriel’s golden hair as “a marvel unmatched”—some even say “the light of the Two Trees, Laurelin and Telperion, has been snared in her tresses.” Her very name derives from a Sindarin word that means “radiant.” So the Tolkien wikis tell me, at least; I’m not up on my Elvish!

I also haven’t yet seen The Battle of the Five Armies. I will, and in the theater. My 13-year-old son seems more excited about this film than any in a while; as a geek dad, how can I say no? But if early reviews are to be believed, director Peter Jackson, who so brilliantly brought The Lord of the Rings to the screen, has, as feared, scraped The Hobbit like too little butter over too much bread.

I had high hopes two Decembers ago (as long-time SFC readers may recall). I thoroughly enjoyed An Unexpected Journey, and I expect I’ll still enjoy it once the CGI-dust of Erebor’s battlefields settles. The first Hobbit film rebuilt and expanded upon the beautiful, seemingly fully realized Middle-earth Jackson and his creative team presented in the earlier Tolkien adaptations, an immersive world of wonders punctuated with moments of sheer beauty.

Galadriel, Lady of Light

Cate Blanchett’s cameo as Galadriel was one of those moments. I’m not talking about physical attractiveness, although Blanchett’s a lovely woman who cuts a dignified figure as the elf queen. No, I mean this: When Galadriel turned around to welcome Gandalf to Rivendell, I literally gasped in awe. I’m still not sure why; the scene hasn’t affected me the same way in home viewings. But, at the time, something about Blanchett’s movement and speech, about her costume, about Howard Shore’s score, about the scene’s lighting… I literally shivered, and ever so briefly teared up. The moment was gorgeous. Maybe it was even one of those “piercing glimpse[s] of joy” Tolkien himself talked about in “On Fairy-stories.”

My memory of Galadriel’s appearance to Gandalf is now one of my mental, visual parables of God’s light graciously breaking into our darkness. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light,” declared the prophet Isaiah; “those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined” (Isaiah 9.2). Although addressed to ancient Israel some eight centuries before Jesus was born, Christians believe this prophecy finds its fullest realization in the birth of the baby at Bethlehem. John the Evangelist, unlike Matthew and Luke, preserves no narrative of the nativity, but his gospel nevertheless includes a “Christmas story”: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it… The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world” (John 1.5, 9).

Galadriel and PhialIn The Lord of the Rings, the phial of light Galadriel gives to Frodo shines for him in one of his darkest moments. And I understand she has an important part to play in driving “the Necromancer,” Sauron, from Dol Goldur in the new Hobbit film. I’ll look forward to that scene. Whatever Peter Jackson has gotten wrong, if he has preserved Lady Galadriel as a radiant bringer and giver of light—“the light of Eärendil’s star… [that] will shine still brighter when night is about you… a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out”—then he has preserved from Tolkien’s works a moving and meaningful image of divine grace, an image we need as we continue to walk in darkness today.

“For the grace of God has dawned upon the world with healing for all mankind…” (Titus 2.11, New English Bible). Let us, then, walk in the light of the Lord (Isaiah 2.5).

O Radiant Dawn,

splendor of eternal light,

Sun of justice:

Come, shine on those who live in darkness

and in the shadow of death.

Come, Lord Jesus!

Scripture quotations from the New Revised Standard Version, except where noted. Antiphon texts from Book of Common Worship, © 1993 Westminster/John Knox Press. Hildebrandt image of Galadriel found at

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