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

The Lady Galadriel is a moving and meaningful image of divine grace, an image we need as we continue to walk in darkness today.

O Orient, Brightness of the Eternal Light, and Sun of Righteousness: Come, and lighten them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.

The Lady Galadriel, ruler of the forest of Lórien, is renowned for her wisdom, her mercy, and her beauty. Gimli the dwarf deems her fairer than “all the jewels that lie beneath the earth!”

In his Unfinished Tales, J.R.R. 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 meaning “radiant.”

(So the Tolkien wikis tell me, at least. I’m not up on my Elvish!)

I haven’t yet watched The Rings of Power beyond its first episode. I’m not opposed to the idea of making a young Galadriel a protagonist of the series, nor even one who seems cut from similar cloth as Wonder Woman. I have not read The Silmarillion in its entirety, but I know it talks of Galadriel having been a warrior who saw battle.

But no matter how well Morfydd Clark plays the role in the Amazon series, Cate Blanchett will always be Galadriel in my mind’s eye. Her portrayal was a high point in all of Peter Jackson’s Middle-earth films—even the Hobbit trilogy, which felt generally like too little butter over too much bread.

Cate Blanchett’s cameo as Galadriel in An Unexpected Journey (2012) was one of that film’s most beautiful 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 even 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.”

Great and Gracious Light, Shining in the Dark Places

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 overtake it… The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world” (John 1.5, 9).

In The Lord of the Rings, the phial of light Galadriel gives to Frodo shines for him in one of his darkest moments. Lady Galadriel is 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.” She is a moving and meaningful image of divine grace, an image we need as we continue to walk in darkness today.

How are you living as a bringer of light in dark places this Advent?

Scripture quotations are NRSVUE. Antiphon texts are from The Advent Antiphons by A.C.A. Hall, 1914 ( A version of this post first appeared on The Sci-Fi Christian, December 21, 2014.

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