Arise and Shine in Splendor
Isaiah 60:1–6; Colossians 1:13; Isaiah 9:2; Acts 26:17–18
Text: Martin Opitz (1597-1639)
(Lutheran Service Book 396)
Arise and shine in splendor;
Let night to day surrender.
Your light is drawing near.
Above, the day is beaming,
In matchless beauty gleaming;
The glory of the Lord is here.
See earth in darkness lying,
The heathen nations dying
In hopeless gloom and night.
To you the Lord of heaven—
Your life, your hope—has given
Great glory, honor, and delight.
The world’s remotest races,
Upon whose weary faces
The sun looks from the sky,
Shall run with zeal untiring,
With joy Your light desiring
That breaks upon them from on high.
Lift up your eyes in wonder—
See, nations gather yonder
From sin to be set free.
The world has heard Your story;
Her sons come to Your glory;
Her daughters haste Your light to see.
Your heart will leap for gladness
When from the realms of sadness
They come from near and far.
Your eyes will wake from slumber
As people without number
Rejoice to see the Morning Star.
© 1941 Concordia Publishing House
“Arise and Shine in Splendor” was composed by Martin Opitz who is widely considered as the most influential German poet of his generation. One of his key achievements was to establish the German language as a fit language for poetry. Before Opitz, when Germans wrote poetry, they would imitate poets from other languages. “Opitz's poems, written during the Thirty Years War, reflect shifting religious and worldly loyalties.” I can find no direct reference to his religious leanings however, based on the places he worked, it seems likely he was Roman Catholic. He died of the plague. This hymn first appeared in our hymnals with The Lutheran Hymnal. The original has six verses. Our hymnals have always published five of them.
Light and darkness is a traditional Epiphany theme, and Opitz picks up on it. Light represents God, gospel, Christ, life and the like. Darkness represents the devil, law, sin, death, and the like. This is a use of the light/dark metaphor that was established in Scriptures.
Through His Old Testament prophets, God promised that the Messiah was not just for Jews, but for all. The hymn starts by drawing inspiration from one of those prophecies, Isaiah 60:1-6.
60:1 Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
2 For behold, darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will be seen upon you.
3 And nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your rising.
4 Lift up your eyes all around, and see;
they all gather together, they come to you;
your sons shall come from afar,
and your daughters shall be carried on the hip.
5 Then you shall see and be radiant;
your heart shall thrill and exult,
because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you,
the wealth of the nations shall come to you.
6 A multitude of camels shall cover you,
the young camels of Midian and Ephah;
all those from Sheba shall come.
They shall bring gold and frankincense,
and shall bring good news, the praises of the Lord.
The light/darkness metaphor is easily seen in Isaiah. Isaiah speaks of nations and kings coming to the brightness of the Messiah in verse 3. In verse 6 he speaks of camels arriving carrying gold and frankincense. The fulfillment of this verse can easily been seen in the Magi who visited the Christ-child.
In the hymn we sing of the world’s “remotest races” and the “heathen nations dying” as they lye in darkness seeing the light of the gospel. This again reflects the reading from Isaiah for, while Isaiah’s words can certainly be applied to the Magi, they are not limited to those visitors to Bethlehem. Wherever the Gospel goes it brings the saving light into a sin-darkened world.
Isaiah saw what would happen when the Messiah came and wrote about it in chapter 9.
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shone.
Again we find the light/darkness metaphor used also in our hymn. This great light comes from Galilee (Isaiah 9:1), pointing us to Jesus. Jesus himself picks up on this light imagery when he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). Jesus identifies himself as the Light of which Isaiah spoke and of which we sing in the hymn.
Saul, a former Pharisee and scholar of the Old Testament, was a persecutor of Christians. He became the great Christian missionary to the Gentiles and faced the same persecution he once dealt out. At one time he was arrested and appeared before King Agrippa. At that time Saul/Paul told the king how the resurrected Jesus appeared to him.
17“… delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you 18to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me’” (Acts 26:17-18).
Jesus told Saul that He had appointed him to be His servant and witness, specifically to the Gentiles. Again the Gospel light is not to be restricted to any one race or nation. Again our hymn reflects the global reach of the Gospel over and over again.
Paul was to “open the eyes” of those to whom he was sent. He was to proclaim Jesus’ teachings, which includes both Law and Gospel. The “Law” part might not jump out right away, but every reference to “darkness” is Law. To remove the metaphor a bit, we are sinners who need to “see” our sins and our need for a Savior. The Gospel is all that Jesus has done and does to earn and deliver to us our forgiveness and salvation. The Holy Spirit works through these truths and opens the eyes of sinners to see and know their Savior. Through faith in Him, their sins would be forgiven and they would be sanctified.
At Pentecost the Holy Spirit made it possible for believers to speak in foreign languages—opening the way to reach the Gentiles. In less than thirty years, the Gospel was being proclaimed throughout the Roman Empire. Paul wrote about this advancement of the Gospel to the Colossians:
He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son (Colossians 1:13)
Notice that Paul uses the word “us” when speaking of being delivered from darkness and being brought into the kingdom of “His beloved Son.” The nations for whom the Gospel is intended includes the descendants of Abraham. However Paul is writing to Gentiles, and includes them in the word “us.” We have been delivered, all of us, both Jew and Gentile, all who have come to faith in Christ. To put that another way, all baptized believers in the Triune God, who have faith in Jesus as the Savior, are included in the word “us.” So, as we sing of the nations in the hymn, we are singing about Mexico, South Africa, Nigeria, China, France, Puerto Rico, Russia, the Philippines, and the USA, to name a few. We are singing about “us.”