Norwegian Kom, konge, kom i morgenglans
Swedish: Guds Son en gång i morgonglans
Text: John Brownlie (1857-1925) Tune: Johan Crüger (1598-1662) A. Davidson 1816 Kentucky Harmony
1 The King shall come when morning dawns and light triumphant breaks, when beauty gilds the eastern hills and life to joy awakes— not as of old a little child to bear, and fight, and die, but crowned with glory like the sun that lights the morning sky.
2 Oh, brighter than the rising morn when Christ, victorious, rose and left the lonesome place of death despite the rage of foes shall dawn that glorious, welcome morn for all who know his grace— the day when Christ in splendor comes and we shall see his face.
3 The King shall come when morning dawns and earth's dark night is past; that morning cannot rise too soon, that day that e'er shall last. Then let the endless bliss begin, as heav'n with praises rings. Hail, Christ the Lord! Your people pray: come quickly, King of kings!
This is an apocalyptic hymn about the second coming of Christ, or the Third Advent as Luther called it, with reference to Christ's birth and resurrection. Apocalpyse means revelation. When this happens, all truth will be revealed. And so, especially in times of trouble and unrest, we pray for that revelation and look for it with joy. Then, as the country western song says, we will understand it all, by and by.
Things seem murky just now and reading the signs around us for meaning, like Jesus tells the disciples they should do in observing the fig tree, is a bit hard. What does it mean that there is a new variant of the corona virus rampaging around the world? Do we believe with some that this portends the need for more draconian efforts to stop it, or does it mean that it will take over the other variants, and end the crisis with its, as of now, much milder symptoms? We don’t quite know. We will have to wait to hear from those who study these things. And then trust that their conclusions are not driven by the political tides sweeping over all of us to be on either one side or another of the culture wars on the meaning.
In some analyses of our times, I have been most illuminated by those who are stepping back from the culture wars and trying to understand what is happening from a historical or theological perspective. Not a few are arguing that in our polarized situation, both world views, that of Christendom, and that of science have met their donnybrook in this plague. The stories of each side have failed or faded. Christendom—not Christianity, but the notion that the West is all Christian—has been faltering since the late 19th century, and science has come a cropper—we can argue about one study as over against another and not be able to come to agreement. Finally only one side with the power can win, but that is not satisfactory either, especially since that can change. Every pandemic in history has been followed by a loss of trust in the systems of authority. What is wanting is a spiritual revival. As some have said, the virus has revealed (apocalypse) the faults on both sides. The churches have sided with one or the other side, and we just yell across the increasing gulf between us, and science, no matter how advanced, has not been able to stop the virus which has demonstrated an uncanny ability to outwit our vaccines and mitigation strategies.
A civilization perishes when its people no longer share its basic values. Discovering that has happened is an apocalypse, a revelation. It is a terrible thing, and it is causing fear and anxiety to grow exponentially as we look around for a future..
But what if we looked on this as an opportunity for us to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ? This world can never satisfy our deepest longings. Especially when we make what happens here our end to happiness rather than a means? There be dragons.
While this world is filled with delights—which Christmas shows us as God comes down to be among us and share our joys—it is also filled with woes that can scarcely be described. Jesus experienced that as well in his passion. What agonies he experienced in Gethsamene, on his way to the cross, and his death on Golgatha are at the edge of what any of us have experienced and he knows our sorrows better than we do.
What structures we want to build or save may hold or collapse, but our faith in the coming of Christ and confidence that the “morning will dawn/and earth’s dark night is past” can help us as we make our way through the ruins into a new day. Whether what shines before us is the light of day or not, we can walk through it knowing the real light is Christ, who will come like the morning dawn.
Brownlie was a Scottish Presbyterian born in Glasgow. He studied at Glasgow University and the Free Church College there. After his licensure in 1884 he became a minister at the Free Church in Portpatrick where he served for many years. He was a member of school boards and in other positions having to do with education. Over the years he began writing hymns and works on hymnody. Like many of his contemporaries he became enthralled with the hymns of the Ancient Church. This hymn appeared first in 1907 in Brownlie’s collection Hymns from the East. While some have tried to find an original of this hymn in Greek, most have concluded that Brownlie was influenced by the Greek tradition of seeing the Morning Light of Dawn as important to the appearance of the Lord.
The tunes are varied. The Norwegian and Swedish hymnals use the Crüger tune from 1652, a tune influenced by the Genevan tunes of the day. The LBW used a Kentucky Harmony tune Consolation. In any event the text has attracted singers around the world with its thrilling picture of Jesus’ Second Coming.
Cathedral Choral Society of the Washington National Cathedral