Praise to the Lord, the Almighty

Our Scripture lessons for this Sunday are some of the most comforting passages in Scripture. They focus on our heavenly Father who always loves us and takes care of us. He provides for us, forgives our sins, heals us, and has sent His Son to lead us and atone for us. One of the best hymns I could find to preach this comfort to us and also express our overwhelming thanksgiving is the beloved hymn, Praise to the Lord, the Almighty by Joachim Neander. It really captures the comforting themes that run through our Scripture readings for this week. I plan to give lots of Scripture quotations in this week’s post, so perhaps this is more of a compilation of passages of comfort than a true journal entry; but here go:

Stanza 1:

Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation!

O my soul, praise Him, for He is your health and salvation!

Let all who hear

Now to His temple draw near,

Joining in glad adoration!

 

The Scripture reference given for this hymn is Psalm 103, of which I’ll give you the first fourteen verses:

1 Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name!
2 Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits,
3who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
4who redeems your life from the pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
5who satisfies you with good
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

6The LORD works righteousness
and justice for all who are oppressed.
7He made known his ways to Moses,
his acts to the people of Israel.
8The LORD is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
9 He will not always chide,
nor will he keep his anger forever.
10He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
11For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
12as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
13As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.
14For he knows our frame;
he remembers that we are dust.

It also reminds me of Psalm 24:

1 The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof,
the world and those who dwell therein,
2for he has founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the rivers.

God is our health and our salvation!  He satisfies us with good and renews our strength. He removes our sins from us. We respond to this great love with our praise and thanksgiving as we join with all of the Christian church in praising Him. All of this takes place in the presence tense when we gather for worship on Sunday. God forgives our sins through the Word and Sacrament. He promises to take care of all our needs, and we get to praise Him! All of this takes place during the week as God richly and daily provides us with all that we need to support this body and life.

 

Stanza 2

Praise to the Lord, who o’er all things is wondrously reigning

And, on wings of an eagle, uplifting, sustaining.

Have you not seen

All that is needful has been

Sent by His gracious ordaining?

The image of God holding us up as on wings of an eagle is a common one throughout Scriptures. The language of this stanza, however, reminds me the most of Isaiah 40.

27Why do you say, O Jacob,
and speak, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the LORD,
and my right is disregarded by my God”?
28Have you not known? Have you not heard?The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
29He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases strength.
30Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
31but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.

I love the phrase in this, “Have you not known? Have you not heard?” It’s a rhetorical question. Of course we know!  But how often we forget and doubt! Our God is the Creator of the ends of the earth, who never grows tired. Don’t you know that He is capable of taking care of us?!

Stanza 3

Praise to the Lord, who has fearfully, wondrously, made you,

Health has bestowed and, when heedlessly falling, has stayed you.

What need or grief

Ever has failed of relief?

Wings of His mercy did shade you.

 

This stanza starts by referencing Psalm 139:14

4I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.

It starts with this, but then moves to some strong parental language, “when heedlessly falling, has stayed you.”  We could give a rough paraphrase of this by saying that God has taken care of you and me when even when we are really stupid and get ourselves in trouble. This parental language also brings to mind the Old Testament reading for this Sunday from Isaiah 49, where we hear:

14But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me;

my Lord has forgotten me.”

15“Can a woman forget her nursing child,

that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?

Even these may forget,

yet I will not forget you.

16Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;

You mother is more likely to stop loving you than is your God. Even when it feels as though God has forgotten you, He has not. Have you not known? Have you not heard? This same God hides us under His wings, as it says in Psalm 91

4He will cover you with his pinions,
and under his wings you will find refuge;

What does it mean that we have refuge in God’s wings? It means that He is the place where we can run and hide and be safe. He is the almighty creator of the universe who loves and cares for us.

Stanza 4

Praise to the Lord, who will prosper your work and defend you;

Surely His goodness and mercy shall daily attend you.

Ponder anew

What the Almighty can do

As with His love He befriends you.

All these passages of comfort help lead us to the Gospel reading for this Sunday from Matthew 6:

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

That last verse would be a very helpful motto for all Christians to say to themselves and to each other every single day. Do not worry about tomorrow. Is God’s salvation not enough? Will God forget you? Does God not love you? Is God not powerful enough to help you? We rest in Him, who is our health and salvation.

This leads us into our last stanza, which again connects to our Old Testament Readings from Isaiah 49:

13Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth;

break forth, O mountains, into singing!

for the Lord has comforted his people

and will have compassion on his afflicted.


We again respond to our God with our praise and thanksgiving.

Stanza 5

Praise to the Lord! O let all that is in my adore Him!

All that has life and breath, come now with praises before Him!

Let the Amen

Sound from His people again;

Gladly forever adore Him!

Amen!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Church musicians behaving badly

In my reading, I’ve been making my way through The Music of the English Church by Kenneth Long. There’s a very interesting passage about average town churches in second half of the 17th century, during a period called the restoration. Previous to this, organs and choirs across England had been dismantled and disbanded. The average church would have a rowdy group of minstrels hanging out in the balcony (gallery). What resulted was quite interesting and some if it seems as though it could have been written today.  Here are a few amusing excerpts:

Members of the minstrel group were often referred to as ‘musicainers’ or ‘musickers’. They were very proud of themselves; proud too of the group as a whole and they would practice regularly  and work hard to gain the ascendancy over minstrels from neighboring parishes…But this same strong corporate spirit could occasionally bring them into conflict with the clergy or people or both; indeed, in many parishes the minstrels were a force to be reckoned with. They were often autocratic; they were not above putting the parson firmly in his place (during the service if need be) neither did they shrink from going on strike if necessary in order to get their own way. They were jealous of their rights and even a seat in the gallery was a privilege hedged round with protocol and taboos.  They resisted change, even when it did not personally involve them, and their opinion had considerable influence in the parish. In some churches the minstrels looked upon the music as their own special prerogative and woe betide the member of the congregation rash enough to join in!

Most of the minstrels were yokels – ignorant, illiterate and musically self-taught – yet they possessed immense zeal and diligence and often by sheer perseverance the more intelligent players learned to read and write music…Similarly minstrel performances were usually more notable for enthusiasm and vigor than for accuracy and artistry; indeed contemporary accounts are scathing in their criticism and make it plain that both the singing and playing were so appalling as to be either pathetic or frankly ludicrous. Many writers comment on the ‘shrill tone’ and ‘screeching’ or ‘screaming’ of the children and the uncouth voices of the men…

If the music was bad the standard of behavior was worse and there seems to have been a total lack of reverence. Instruments would be tuned during the sermon; loud exhortations, blame and praise from the leader of the minstrels would punctuate the service; raucous arguments in the gallery distracted the worshipper below…Some of the instruments were found useful for chastising boys and the intermittent thwacks and the boys’ yells were merely another irritation for the congregation to endure. All this was made worse because during the singing it was customary for the congregation to turn in their seats and ‘face the music’, so they could not escape seeing as well as hearing all that went on.

 

Lord of Glory, You Have Bought Us

Our sermon hymn for this Sunday is the great hymn Lord of Glory, You Have Bought Us, a great and beloved hymn on Christian love and charity. It was written by Eliza Alderson, one of our few women hymn-writers, whose brother, John Dykes, wrote the famous tune to “Holy, Holy, Holy”.  She was a pastor’s wife and the granddaughter of a pastor, living in England for all of her life. She was a gifted poet and painter and was active in those things for most of her life. This hymn appeared in a collection of 12 hymns by her, simply called Twelve Hymns.

I believe the Old Testament reading for this Sunday, the seventh Sunday after Epiphany, sets the tone for the hymn. It comes from Leviticus 19.

9 “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. 10And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God.

11 “You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie to one another. 12 You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am the LORD.

13 “You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him. The wages of a hired servant shall not remain with you all night until the morning. 14 You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the LORD.

 

Here’s stanza 1:

Lord of glory, You have bought us

With Your life-blood as the price,

Never grudging for the lost ones

That tremendous sacrifice;

And with that have freely given

Blessings countless as the sand

To the unthankful and the evil

With Your own unsparing hand.

Our Lord, Jesus Christ, has bought us by sacrificing himself on the cross for us. We hear this all throughout Scripture, including this from Hebrews 10:

8When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), 9then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. 10And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Jesus has given Himself as the sacrifice to take away our sins, and the hymn points out something about that sacrifice that is truly amazing. He doesn’t hold a grudge against us for it! Despite the pain and agony he endured, he holds no grudge, no resentment, no anger towards us. This is an astounding truth that we often overlook, but the hymn-writer wisely picks up on it. Along with the salvation we gain through the sacrifice of Jesus, our loving God and Lord also gives us what Luther calls “everything I need to support this body and life.” He provides for all who believe in Him, but also for all who do not. God provides food, clothing, shelter, family, community, and much else to all people. Jesus points this out in our Gospel reading for this week, from Matthew 5:

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

God loves and provides for people who live in darkness, who despise what is good, and who lives as enemies of God. This should serve as a stern reminder to us that we are to love and care for our enemies, for we, left to ourselves, would surely deserve nothing but God’s wrath and punishment.

Stanza 2

Grant us hearts, dear Lord, to give You

Gladly, freely of Your own.

With the sunshine of Your goodness

Melt our thankless hearts of stone

Till our cold and selfish natures,

Warmed by You, at length believe

That more happy and more blessed

‘Tis to give than to receive.

Having dealt with the way that God freely and lovingly gives, we now move on to how we are to give.  First of all, we must understand that everything we have is a gift from God. This is why the second verse (line) says “Gladly, freely of Your own.” This sort of glad, open-hearted giving can only come from God’s love  working in our hearts. How fitting, then, that for decades we in the Lutheran church sang these words from Psalm 51 as we brought the offering forward:

 

10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
11 Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
12Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.

It is only by the work of the Holy Spirit that we can have believing hearts that will want to give and not receive. We are given the wealth of the world in order to help our neighbor who is in the world. John speaks it this way, in words of intense law, from 1 John 3:

16By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

Create in us clean hearts, O God!

Stanza 3

Wondrous honor You have given

To our humblest charity

In Your own mysterious sentence,

“You have done it all to Me.”

Can it be, O gracious Master,

That You deign for alms to sure,

Saying by Your poor and needy,

“Give and I have given to you”?

This “mysterious sentence” comes from the parable of the sheep and the goats, found in Matthew 25:

34Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

It is a truly wondrous, profound mystery that we are the body of Christ and that in caring for each other we care for Christ Himself. Because of this, when we see our Christian brothers and sisters in need, it is not them, but Christ Himself, who cries out to us for assistance. How can we say that we love Jesus and neglect His body when He cries out in need? Our example from God in terms of giving is perfect and we are to follow that example. Lord, have mercy upon us! Jesus will tell us again at the end of Matthew 5:

You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Is the Law of God starting to hit you yet? God doesn’t just want us to love a little more, or try to be nice, or go do one good deed during the week to prove that we listened to the sermon. God wants us to follow His perfect example and love and give perfectly as He has given perfectly to us. This is a good thing! The law of God is good and wise and it sets our sins before our eyes. And so, as we conclude the hymn, we return to the love of God, repeating part of stanza 1, and always trusting in the love of Jesus Christ.

Stanza 4

Lord of glory,

You have bought us

With Your life-blood as the price,

Never grudging for the lost ones,

That tremendous sacrifice.

Give us faith to trust you boldly,

Hope, to stay our souls on You;
But, oh, best of all Your graces,

With Your love our love renew.

Songs of Thankfulness and Praise

1Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son  (Hebrews 1:1-2a)

Manifest – readily perceived by the eye or the understanding; evident; obvious; apparent; plain. (dictionary.com)

The hymn of the day for this Sunday, Songs of Thankfulness and Praise, beautifully sums up the season of Epiphany.  Throughout the season of Epiphany we see God revealed in human form. During this season we see Jesus visited by the Magi, baptized in the Jordan, healing the sick, and blessed by God as the beloved Son.  God makes Himself known through His Son. He makes Himself manifest, which means obvious and plain to see.

The hymn’s author is Christopher Woodsworth, the nephew of the poet William Woodsworth. He studied at Trinity College in Cambridge and became an ordained clergyman. He was the bishop of Lincoln cathedral for many years before his death.

 

We’ll start with stanza 1:

Songs of thankfulness and praise,

Jesus, Lord, to Thee we raise,

Manifested by the star

To the sages from afar,

Branch of royal David’s stem

In Thy birth at Bethlehem:

Anthems be to Thee addressed,

God in man made manifest.

 

The hymn’s author starts with God being revealed through the star that rose and the visit of the Magi. Here’s their account from Matthew 2:

1Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, 2saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”…

10When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.

The wise men came because the star revealed that the Messiah, the King, the Anointed One had been born. Notice their response as well. They came to worship him. They brought the finest gifts and spices- gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The account of the wise men also includes this quote from Micah

2 But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,
from ancient days.

Jesus is born as the king, the promised descendant of David. By fulfilling all the promises made about him, he makes it clear to us that He is the messiah he claims to be.

Stanza 2:
Manifest at Jordan’s stream,

Prophet, Priest, and King supreme;

And at Cana wedding guest

In Thy God-head manifest;

Manifest in pow’r divine,

Changing water into wine;

Anthems be to Thee addressed,

God in man made manifest.

 

Here we see Jesus revealed through His first miracle; changing water into wine. Here’s the account from the Gospel of John:

1On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. 3When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” 5His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

6Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. 9When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom 10and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 11This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.

It is convenient for our purposes that the English Standard Version uses the phrase “manifested his glory” to translate the text. Jesus’ glory and divinity become clear through the miracles he performs on earth. This is why John refers to miracles as “signs”. As with the previous stanza, we respond by directing our anthems of praise and thanksgiving to Him.

Stanza 3

Manifest in making whole

Palsied limbs and fainting soul;

Manifest in valiant fight,

Quelling all the devil’s might;

Manifest in gracious will,

Ever bringing good from ill;

Anthems be to Thee addressed,.

God in man made manifest.

 

Here are a couple of definitions for those of us who, like me, are vocabulary-challenged.

Palsied – refers to the condition of palsy, which involves paralysis and involuntary tremors.

Quell – to thoroughly overwhelm and reduce to submission or passivity.

Our world has fallen into sin and in our sin-filled world there is death and decay and disease. These things are evil and are from the devil, who wants nothing more than for us to be miserable and sick. When Jesus comes into our world He brings healing, life, and salvation. Isaiah prophesied about this in Isaiah chapter 35:

5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
6 then shall the lame man leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.

Jesus truly does quell the devils’ might! He forces the devil into submission and brings about good things. Through His death and resurrection, he gives us eternal life and salvation. He now sits at the right hand of God and will come and reveal himself once more at the end of the world. This is where the next stanza takes us.

 

Stanza 4:
Sun and moon shall darkened be,

Stars shall fall, the heav’ns shall flee;

Christ will then like lightening shine,

All will see His glorious sign;

All will then the trumpet hear,

All will see the Judge appear;

Thou by all wilt be confessed,

God in man made manifest.

This stanza is referring to the end of times, when Jesus will appear and all will know that He is the glorious one. He will come to judge the world. This stanza is very similar to Matthew chapter 24:

29“Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

So we have seen Jesus as God revealed, God made clear and visible, God made manifest through His earthly ministry and life. We have seen how He will be made manifest when He comes to judge the living and the dead on the last day. Does this leave us wondering where we see God made manifest today? Stanza 5 takes up this topic.

Stanza 5

Grant us grace to see Thee, Lord,

Present in Thy holy Word-

Grace to imitate Thee now

And be pure, as pure art Thou;

That we might become like Thee

At Thy great epiphany

And may praise Thee, ever blest,

God in man made manifest.

We see God present today through His holy Word. We see God present through Holy Scripture, in which He gives us the gospel and instructs us in the faith. We see God’s love made visible in the holy sacraments, in which the Word of God is combined with a visible, tangible element for our life and salvation. It is only through grace that we can see God, hear Him, and imitate Him in our life. We will become like Him because our life is hidden in Him. We will praise Him without end. Our God has revealed Himself to us, brought us to faith, keeps us in the faith, provides for us, and will love us and take care of us forever.

1 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3)

Thy Strong Word

The hymn of the day for this upcoming Sunday is the great 20th century Lutheran hymn Thy Strong Word. This hymn was written by Martin Franzmann while he was chairman of the department of exegetical theology at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. Franzmann was a respected scholar, teacher, and theologian, and his gifts shine in this hymn. The text is based on the motto of the seminary, “Anothen to Phos”, which means “light from above”. The hymn takes the idea of light, beginning with creation, and takes it all the way to its fulfillment as we worship the Triune God with all the company of heaven in the splendor of God’s glory.

 

Stanza 1

Thy strong word did cleave the darkness;

At Thy speaking it was done.

For created light we thank Thee,

While Thine ordered seasons run.

Alleluia, alleluia,

Praise to Thee who light dost send!

Alleluia, alleluia! Alleluia without end!

 

This first stanza praises God for the work of creation, specifically the work of Genesis 1:1-4

1In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

3And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness.

 

Before God began His work of creation, the earth was dark and formless. It was an endless, bottomless nothing. But God, through His Word, spoke and “it was done”. These first four verses of Genesis set up themes that will run through all of Scripture. God is the creator and giver of light.  The image of light is used for holiness, glory, splendor, and good works. Darkness is the way and works of evil and sin. We once dwelled in darkness, as we will learn in stanza 2.

 

Stanza 2

Lo, on those who dwelt in darkness,

Dark as night and deep as death,

Broke the light of Thy salvation,

Breathed Thine own life-breathing breath.

Alleluia, alleluia,

Praise to Thee who light dost send!

Alleluia, alleluia! Alleluia without end!

 

In Isaiah, chapter 9, we read:

2 The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shined.

Matthew applies this passage to Jesus in Matthew, chapter 4, as Jesus begins His ministry. We are the ones who have dwelt in darkness, which is the darkness of sin and death and condemnation. Jesus broke into our darkness, becoming a human like us and shining into our darkness, as it says in John 1

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

This light has not only entered our existence, but He has “breathed “his own “life-breathing breath”. Just as God breathed into Adam and brought him to life, so our God breathes on us in the waters of Holy Baptism and makes us His new creation.

Stanza 3:

Thy strong Word bespeaks us righteous;

Bright with Thine own holiness,

Glorious now we press toward glory,

And our lives our hopes confess.

Alleluia, alleluia,

Praise to Thee who light dost send!

Alleluia, alleluia! Alleluia without end!

In Jesus, our God has paid for our sins, forgiven us, and declared us to be His righteous, beloved children.  God re-creates us as His own, as it says in Ephesians 2:

1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved— 6and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

And keep in mind the words from 2nd Corinthians 5:

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

We been clothed with the righteousness of Christ, which is the righteousness of God. With this glory, we run towards the goal of heaven

4I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3)

And we strive to live lives that confess our faith.

14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5)

Stanza 4

From the cross Thy wisdom shining

Breaketh forth in conquering might;

From the cross forever beameth

All Thy bright redeeming light.

Alleluia, alleluia,

Praise to Thee who light dost send!

Alleluia, alleluia! Alleluia without end!

 

The cross is the wisdom of God, but it is foolishness to the world. Paul lays this out clearly in 1 Corinthians 1:
18For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

26For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

The wisdom of the cross gives all glory to God and through the cross God conquers sin, death, and the devil. Through the wisdom of the cross God continues to bright light and life to all nations.

Stanza 5

Give us lips to sing Thy glory,

Tongues thy mercy to proclaim,

Throats that shout the hope that fills us,

Mouths to speak Thy holy name.

Alleluia, alleluia!

May the light which thou dost send

Fill our songs with alleluias,

Alleluia without end!

We pray in this stanza that God would open our lips to proclaim His love. Notice that the hymn-writer, Franzmann, waits until stanza 5 for our response. Our praise and thanksgiving is always in response to God’s great love for us and all He has done for us, especially through the work of His Son. Peter says as much in 1 Peter 2:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Or we can think of the words of Psalm 40:

3He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
and put their trust in the LORD.

Finally, we come to the sixth stanza, which brings the hymn to culmination in a Trinitarian doxology. The Father is the creator of light, the Son is the light who became flesh, the Spirit reveals light to the world and creates faith in our hearts, and we join with all creation in praising our Triune God forever and ever, amen!

Stanza 6 (is everyone standing yet?)

God the Father, light-creator,

To Thee laud and honor be.

To Thee, Light of Light begotten,

Praise be sung eternally.

Holy Spirit, light-revealer,

Glory, glory be to Thee.

Mortals, angels, now and ever

Praise the holy Trinity!