"O Morning Star, how fair and bright! You shine with God's own truth and light, Aglow with grace and mercy! Of Jacob's race, King David's Son, Our Lord and Master, You have won our hearts to serve You only! Lowly, holy! Great and glorious, All victorious, Rich in blessing! Rule and Might o'er all possessing!
"Almighty Father, in Your Son You loved us when not yet begun, Was this old earth's foundation! Your Son has ransomed us in love, To live in Him here and above: This is Your great salvation. Alleluia! Christ the living, to us giving Life forever, Keeps us Yours and fails us never!"
When Philipp Nicolai wrote the words and melody to this song in 1597, he was a German Lutheran pastor in the city of Unna in Westphalia, Germany. While there, the city was hit by a scourge of plague that took the lives of more than 1,300 of its citizens. This widespread death so close to home impacted Nicolai in a profound way. It has been noted that more than once up to 30 graves were dug for those claimed by the rat-and-flea-borne menace, and these were laid to rest within the sight of his parsonage, his house, which overlooked the graveyard.
From this catastrophe, which must have struck terror in the lives of anyone near its march, Nicolai found inspiration in four different Scriptures. One of these came from Zechariah's prophecy in Luke 1. Here is John the Baptist's father, filled with the Holy Spirit and speaking exuberantly about Jesus, after being silenced by the angel Gabriel for his previous unbelief.
Luke 1, beginning at verse 76, Zechariah sings, "And you, Child, will be called the Prophet of the Most High; for You will go before the Lord to prepare His ways, to give knowledge of salvation to His people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace" (Luke 1:76-79).
How comforting the words of Zechariah must have been to the hymn-writer. All around him, encroaching nearer, death was spreading its black mass over the city. Left and right, Nicolai's parish members were being claimed by this horrific disease, dying terrible deaths as their organs failed and their bodies shut down. And in the middle of this devastation, God's Word speaks. The Promised One has come; His arrival brings the knowledge of salvation, the forgiveness of sins, and a light to those who sit in darkness.
We, too, may face devastations of various kinds in our lives. We do well to remember the hymnist's line from verse four and keep our eyes focused on the Son: "O Morning Star, how fair and bright! You shine with God's own truth and light ... Our Lord and Master, You have won our hearts to serve You only!"
THE PRAYER: Heavenly Father, when this world overwhelms us with its grief and woe, remind us through Your Holy Spirit to keep our eyes fixed on Your Son, our Morning Star eternal. In His Name. Amen.
This Daily Devotion was written by Paul Schreiber. It is based on the hymn, "O Morning Star, How Fair and Bright," which is found on page 395 in the Lutheran Service Book.
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