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 heavenly places.
About the painting:
Peter Rubens, The Adoration of the Magi, 1624, Oil on panel.
A blessed, holy and joyful Epiphany to you and yours! It so happens this year that the day of Epiphany falls precisely on a Sunday; otherwise, it is normally observed on a Sunday though falling on another day of the week. Epiphany, comes from two Greek words: "epi" and "phaneo" meaning, literally, "to shine out" and then, "manifest." It is the last and final day of Christmas. It is sad to notice how quickly people throw the decorations out after Christmas, thinking Christmas ends on Dec. 26. We keep our creche lit up at night until the very end of Christmas: January 5 the twelfth day of Christmas. Thankfully, today, here in Saint Louis, it is positively "balmy" weather and I will have no plausible excuse for not taking down the lights, creche, etc.
On this Sunday we hear in our churches the account of the visit of these mysterious visitors from the East, the "magi" or "wise men." A star guided them to the Christ child, where they offered their gifts to Him and worshiped Him. Who were they? We do not know. Where exactly did they come from? We are unsure. It would seem clear that they were from lands where the Old Testament prophecies were known and studied. It may well be that they were heirs of one particularly important "wise man" from the East, Daniel, whose time in captivity was used by God to plant His word beyond the people of Israel. The visit of these non-Jewish scholars to the infant Christ signals that the good news of a Savior is good news for all. And that, my friends, is very good news indeed.
The Epiphany season, very short this year because of a very early date of Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent, underscores those events in the life of Christ in which we see very clearly that the One who went to the Cross was no mere mortal man, but, as we confess in the Creed, He is: "God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God." During Epiphany we hear about Christ’s first miracle, and His glorious Transfiguration.
One hymn stands over and above so many others in Lutheranism, and that
is quite an accomplishment. The
German title is Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern, literally
translated: "How beautifully shines the Morning Star." The hymn is
found in Lutheran Service Book, Number 395. It is the hymn of the day appointed for the festival of Epiphany.
In the extended entry below you will find, first, the seven stanzas of the hymn that I could find, then a translation of Bach’s Cantata BWV I, with the German. Bach used this hymn for BWV I, composed for the Annuciation. It uses two stanzas of the hymn verbatim, and then is a paraphrase of other stanzas. Note particularly the powerfully clear reference to the Savior’s body and blood. You can click on this YouTube link to watch a moving score of Bach’s Cantata, and listen to it at the same time. Yes, dear readers, I know that Bach did not write the words of his Cantatas; but, please let nobody think Bach was careless or unconcerned about the words. His music was intentionally designed to support the text.