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How Bright Appears the Morning Star

Full Text

1 How bright appears the Morning Star,
with mercy beaming from afar;
the host of heaven rejoices.
O Righteous Branch, O Jesse’s Rod,
the Son of Man and Son of God!
We too will lift our voices:
Jesus, Jesus, holy, holy, yet most lowly,
come, draw near us; great Emmanuel, come and hear us.

2 Though circled by the hosts on high,
he deigned to cast a pitying eye
upon his helpless creature.
The whole creation’s head and Lord,
by highest seraphim adored,
assumed our very nature;
Jesus, grant us, through your merit, to inherit
your salvation. Hear, O hear our supplication.

3 Rejoice, O heavens, and earth, reply;
with praise, O sinners, fill the sky
for this, his incarnation.
Incarnate God, put forth your power;
ride on, ride on, great Conqueror,
till all know your salvation.
Amen, amen! Alleluia, alleluia!
Praise be given evermore by earth and heaven.

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Scripture References

Thematically related:

Further Reflections on Scripture References

Stanza 1 begins with the words "Morning Star" from Revelation 22: 16 and proceeds to give Old Testament names for the Messiah–"O Righteous Branch," "O Jesse's Rod." Stanza 2 relates how Christ left his glory to become human for our salvation. Both stanzas 1 and 2 end with a prayer of petition. Stanza 3, with a prayer of praise, rejoices in Christ's incarnation and exhorts the Incarnate God to "ride on, great Conqueror, till all know your salvation."

Confessions and Statements of Faith References

Further Reflections on Confessions and Statements of Faith References

In stanza 1, this song gives Jesus multiple names: “Righteous Branch, Jesse’s Rod, Song of Man and Son of God,” and “great Emmanuel.” Belgic Confession, Article 18 explains the process by which he took on the flesh and blood of children and then concludes by saying, “In this way Christ is truly our Emmanuel—that is: ‘God with Us.’” Stanza 2 refers to the way in which Christ “cast a pitying eye on his helpless creature.” Our World Belongs to God, paragraph 5 uses a much stronger reference in professing that God sent Jesus into the world because of his “fierce love.”


How Bright Appears the Morning Star

Call to Worship

The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours forth speech,
and night to night declares knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words;
their voice is not heard;
yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
The glory of God echoes throughout the world.
Let us praise the name of the Lord.
—based on Psalm 19:1-4, NRSV
— Worship Sourcebook Edition Two

A text especially mindful of children
May the light of God’s love push back the darkness.
We come to the light from the four corners of the earth,
from the north, from the south,
from the east, and from the west.
But we are all one in Jesus Christ.
We come from many nations and many cultures.
But we are all one in Jesus Christ.
We come seeking the light that guides us to life.
But we are all one in Jesus Christ.
Let us lift up our many voices and praise the God of all people.
[Reformed Worship 63:11]
— Worship Sourcebook Edition Two


The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.
Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name,
he gave the right to become children of God.
—John 1:9, 12, NIV
— Worship Sourcebook Edition Two

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you,
that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.
If we say that we have fellowship with him
while we are walking in darkness,
we lie and do not do what is true;
but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light,
we have fellowship with one another,
and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.
—1 John 1:5-7, NRSV
— Worship Sourcebook Edition Two

Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.
Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness
but will have the light of life.”
—from John 8:12, NIV
— Worship Sourcebook Edition Two


God of goodness and grace,
with you is the fountain of life,
and in your light we see light.
Now may we leave this place,
ready to serve the risen Savior. Amen.
[The Worship Sourcebook]
— Worship Sourcebook Edition Two

Almighty God has given each of us everything we need
to see our lives as a sheer gift from his hand:
The Father has created us and sustains our lives daily;
the Son has paid for our sins and brought us new life;
the Spirit keeps us in our Savior’s love
and empowers us to live for him.
All glory be to the triune God,
the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
May his name be honored and adored,
now and forevermore.
Beloved children of God:
May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love for you,
and keep you in his peace.
May you receive strength
to grow in faith, hope, and love,
to live with joy and delight,
and to give God thanks and praise. Amen.
[The Worship Sourcebook]
— Worship Sourcebook Edition Two

Additional Prayers

The following is a guide for extemporaneous prayers. The pattern provides a suggested text
for the opening and closing of each part of the prayer and calls for extemporaneous prayers of
thanksgiving, petition, and intercession.
God of light,
we praise you as the one who shows your glory
to the nations in the coming of Jesus Christ!
We thank you for reflections of your glory
in our world and in our community:
for your work in creation, especially . . .
for your work in the world, especially . . .
for your work in the church and local community . . .
Help us to see these signs of glory as signs of your coming kingdom.
We long for the fullness of that kingdom. Come, Lord Jesus.
In light of your love, we offer our petitions to you now,
coming to you in the name and power of Jesus Christ.
Today, we pray for
the creation and its care, especially . . .
the nations of the world, especially . . .
our nation and its leaders, especially . . .
our community and those who govern, especially . . .
the church universal, its mission, and those who minister, especially . . .
our local congregation and its ministry, especially . . .
people with particular needs, especially . . .
We offer these prayers in the strong name of Jesus Christ,
our light and our salvation. Amen.
[The Worship Sourcebook]
— Worship Sourcebook Edition Two

How Bright Appears the Morning Star

Tune Information

D Major


Musical Suggestion

One of my favorites is the familiar chorale found in Cantata 172, with the original German first line usually given as the tune name: Wie Schön Leuchtet. I cannot think of a better hymn, musically and theologically, with which to celebrate Advent, Christmas, and/or Epiphany. It’s in the Epiphany section of most hymnals, but the star also announces Jesus’ birth as an Advent message. In Bach’s setting, a fifth voice, an instrumental solo (Bach asks for violin, but other soprano instruments may be substituted), soars above the chorale like a star in the sky (see ex. 1c). The text refers to Freudenschein, rays of joy, with which God beholds his creation. The descant is mostly stepwise, in eighth notes, smooth and flowing, with numerous suspensions to give it a dance-like lilt, especially toward the cadences. It is as if peace, joy, and grace abound. Most hymnals include this chorale in the very comfortable and warm key of D. I suggest the whole congregation singing the first two stanzas in that key. Perhaps the descant instrument could play along on the melody line of one of those stanzas as well. Then comes an organ modulation up to Bach’s original key of F, and the last stanza using Bach’s setting would be sung by the choir with the instrumental descant.
  1. Stanzas 1-2: choir (SATB), congregation, organ (from hymnal)
  2. Modulating interlude from D to F
  3. Stanza 3: choir only, using Cantata 172 setting with instrumental descant
Note: For more information on the how and why of improvising interludes, modulating or not, see chapters 25 and 26 of my book Making Music—Improvisation for Organists, Oxford University Press, 1998.
(from Reformed Worship, Issue 84)
— Jan Overduin

If your congregation is not familiar with the tune, have the choir(s) lead the way by singing the hymnal version in unison or in parts. Many settings are available to assist choirs and congregations in becoming familiar with this hymn:
  • Michael Praetorius prepared a highly-effective setting for choir (easy) and solo voices (more difficult).
  • The Eulenburg or Schirmer editions of the hymn are also most useful,although the text they incorporate is from a different translation than that in the hymnals.
  • Concordia publishes a chorale concertato on the tune and text by Harold Rohlig. Again the text (and also the rhythm of the melody) is different from that found in the three hymnals.
  • Arista publishes an SAB setting (by Hugo Distler) of the tune in the rhythm of the Lutheran hymnals.
The popularity of this hymn provides the organist with a wide choice of organ hymns. Easy to listen to and not difficult to play is the three-voice piece "Wie schoen leuchtet der Morgenstern" by G.P. Telemann in Orgelwerke, Volume I, published by Baerenreiter. Play all three voices on one manual with a bright registration, such as flutes 8' and T. Then learn to add the hymn melody on a 4' reed in the pedal. The prominent rhythm in the accompanying voices consists of two sixteenth notes followed by an eighth—a rhythm associated with joy in the organ hymns of J.S. Bach and having the same effect here. The manual parts, except for the hymn melody, should be played with a crisp, almost staccato, touch.
The two-voice setting of the same melody by Telemann in this collection is very easy and is also very effective. Play the left hand with a crisp touch and registration, perhaps flutes 8', 4' and IV3', and the right-hand hymn melody legato on a solo registration. Of special interest is the setting for organ and treble instrument (oboe) by G. F. Kauffmann in Harmonische Seelenlust, published by Baerenreiter.
(from Reformed Worship, Issue 10)
— John Hamersma

How Bright Appears the Morning Star

Hymn Story/Background

This text is based on the famous Lutheran chorale 'Wie schon leuchtet der Morgenstern" by Philipp Nicolai, published in his Frewden-Spiegel dess ewigen Lebens (1599).
Philipp Nicolai described his text as "a Spiritual bridal song of the believing soul concerning her Heavenly Bridegroom, founded in the 45th Psalm of the Prophet David." He wrote the text in 1597, the year after the Black Plague had ravaged Germany. Even though this chorale arose out of sadness, it became popular for wed­dings in Germany. The chorale is often called the "Queen of the Chorales"; his “Wake, Awake” is named "King of the Chorales."
The English text, only loosely translated from the original German, is mainly the work of William Mercer. First published in Church Psalter and Hymn Book (1856) and revised substantially in 1859, Mercer's text incorporates some lines from a translation of Nicolai's chorale by John C. Jacobi published in Jacobi's Psalmodia Germanica (1722). Mercer's text includes certain Nicolai phrases, omits Nicolai's love-song imagery, and emphasizes objective praise and prayer.
Adapting a tune written for Psalm 100 found in Wolff Köphel's Psalter (1538), Nicolai composed WIE SCHÖN LEUCHTET, which was published with the text in 1599. Although the tune was originally more varied rhythmically, the hymnal version here is isorhyth­mic (all equal rhythms) and set to the rich harmonization of Johann S. Bach. That setting will delight all choristers and challenge the organist's feet! Bach also used this tune in his cantatas 1, 36, 37, 61, and 172 and wrote a chorale prelude based on it (as have many other–especially Lutheran–composers).
A rounded bar form (AABA) tune, WIE SCHÖN LEUCHTET is a noble melody that has lost some of its strength due to isorhythm but has regained new color and vigor through the Bach harmonization. Try having the congregation sing this hymn in unison with harmony sung by the choir or played by brass instruments.
— Bert Polman

Author Information

Educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, England, William Mercer (b. Barnard Castle, Durham, England, 1811; d. Leavy Green, Sheffield, England, 1873) was ordained in the Church of England and served the parish of St. George's, Sheffield (1840-1873). He translated and paraphrased several hymns from Latin and German, but his main contribution to church music was as compiler, with John Goss, of the most popular psalter and hymnal in the Church of England in the mid-nineteenth century. This collection had the imposing title The Church Psalter and Hymn Book, comprising the Psalter, or Psalms of David, together with the Canticles, Pointed for Chanting; Four Hundred Metrical Hymns and Six Responses to the Commandments; the whole united to appropriate Chants and Tunes, for the Use of Congregations and Families (1854, enlarged 1856, and published with an Appendix 1872).
— Bert Polman

Composer Information

Johann Sebastian Bach (b. Eisenach, Germany, 1685; d. Leipzig, Germany, 1750) came from a family of musicians. He learned to play violin, organ, and harpsichord from his father and his older brother, Johann Christoph. Bach's early career developed in Arnstadt and Muhlhausen, particularly at the court of Duke Wilhelm Ernst in Weimar. During this period he composed cantatas and most of his large organ works. In 1717 Bach became director of music for Prince Leopold in Anhalt-Cathen, for whom he composed much of his instrumental music-orchestral suites and concertos as well as The Well-Tempered Clavier. In 1723 he was appointed cantor of the Thomas Schule at Leipzig and director at St. Thomas and St. Nicholas churches and at the University of Leipzig. During that time he wrote his large choral works, 165 cantatas, and more compositions for organ and harpsichord. Although Bach's contribution to church music was immense and his stature as the finest composer of the Baroque era unparal­leled, he composed no hymn tunes for congregational use. He did, however, harmo­nize many German chorales, which he used extensively in his cantatas, oratorios, and organ works. These harmonizations were published posthumously by his son Carl Phillip Emmanuel as 371 Vierstimmige Choralgesiinge.
— Bert Polman

Author and Composer Information

Philipp Nicolai (b. Mengeringhausen, Waldeck, Germany, 1556; d. Hamburg, Germany, 1608) lived an eventful life–he fled from the Spanish army, sparred with Roman Catholic and Calvinist opponents, and ministered to plague-stricken congregations. Educated at Wittenberg University, he was ordained a Lutheran pastor in 1583 in the city of Herdecke. However, he was soon at odds with the Roman Catholic town council, and when Spanish troops arrived to reestablish Roman dominance, Nicolai fled. In 1588 he became chief pastor at Altwildungen and court preacher to Countess Argaretha of Waldeck. During that time Nicolai battled with Calvinists, who disagreed with him about the theology of the real presence of Christ in the Lord's Supper. These doctrinal controversies were renewed when he served the church in Unna, Westphalia. During his time as a pastor there, the plague struck twice, and Nicolai wrote both "How Bright Appears the Morning Star" and "Wake, Awake." Nicolai's last years were spent as Pastor of St. Katherine's Church in Hamburg.
— Bert Polman
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