Epiphany hymn review: “How Lovely Shines the Morning Star”

The hymn “How Lovely Shines the Morning Star” (Hymn #167 in our Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary) is one of the monuments of Lutheran hymns and is called the Queen of Chorales. (A “chorale” is a non-Latin Lutheran hymn written between 1520 and 1750.)

It was used so extensively at weddings, that the idea really became common that if this hymn were not sung at the wedding, the persons were not properly married. Stanzas of the hymn were engraved upon bowls and kettles and vases. It was sung at Communion because of the fourth stanza and because the lines form the shape of the chalice when centered in printing (see below). It was used at the deathbed of Christians who had kept the pure faith in love for the Savior of their souls, and who were prepared to follow the invitation to the great supper of the Lamb, the wedding feast in the Kingdom of God. The theologian Johann Gerhard died while singing the words of the seventh stanza.

The author, a pastor named Philipp Nicolai, labeled the hymn, “A spiritual bridal song of the believing soul concerning Jesus Christ, her heavenly bridegroom, founded on the 45th Psalm of the prophet David.” The Morning Star in the very first line is Jesus according to Revelation 22:16.

Nicolai wrote both the text and tune in 1597 while the Black Death pandemic raged in his town, killing 1,400 people. He published a short hymnal in 1599 and in the preface wrote, “To leave behind me (if God should call me from this world) as a token of my peaceful, joyful, Christian departure, or (if God should spare me in health) to comfort other sufferers whom He should also visit with the pestilence.” This hymn was one of three printed in this booklet. One of the others is today called the King of Chorales, the hymn “Wake, Awake, for Night Is Flying” (Hymn #544 in our Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary).

167 – How Lovely Shines the Morning Star

1. How lovely shines the Morning Star!
The nations see and hail afar
The light in Judah shining.
Thou David's Son of Jacob's race,
My Bridegroom and my King of Grace,
For Thee my heart is pining.
Great and glorious,
Thou victorious
Prince of graces,
Filling all the heav'nly places.

2. O highest joy by mortals won,
True Son of God and Mary's Son,
Thou highborn King of ages!
Thou art my heart's most beauteous Flow'r,
And Thy blest Gospel's saving pow'r
My raptured soul engages.
Thou mine,
I Thine,
Sing hosanna!
Heav'nly manna
Tasting, eating,
Whilst Thy love in songs repeating.

3. Now richly to my waiting heart,
O Thou, my God, deign to impart
The grace of love undying.
In Thy blest body let me be,
E'en as the branch is in the tree,
Thy life my life supplying.
For the savor
Of Thy favor;
Resting never
Till I rest in Thee forever.

4. A pledge of peace from God I see
When Thy pure eyes are turned to me
To show me Thy good pleasure.
Jesus, Thy Spirit and Thy Word,
Thy body and Thy blood, afford
My soul its dearest treasure.
Keep me
In Thy favor,
O my Savior!
Thou wilt cheer me;
Thy Word calls me to draw near Thee.

5. Thou, mighty Father, in Thy Son
Didst love me ere Thou hadst begun
This ancient world's foundation.
Thy Son hath made a friend of me,
And when in spirit Him I see,
I joy in tribulation.
What bliss
Is this!
He that liveth
To me giveth
Life forever;
Nothing me from Him can sever.

6. Lift up the voice and strike the string,
Let all glad sounds of music ring
In God's high praises blended.
Christ will be with me all the way,
Today, tomorrow, every day,
Till trav'ling days be ended.
Sing out,
Ring out
Triumph glorious,
O victorious,
Chosen nation;
Praise the God of your salvation.

7. O joy to know that Thou, my Friend,
Art Lord, Beginning without end,
The First and Last, Eternal!
And Thou at length-O glorious grace!-
Wilt take me to that holy place,
The home of joys supernal.
Come and meet me!
Quickly greet me!
With deep yearning,
Lord, I look for Thy returning