One of the oldest hymns of the Christian Church, other than the hymns found in Scripture itself, is called the Phos Hilaron. It is mentioned in the fourth century, but likely existed long before that time. It was a hymn for the evening, as the Christians lit their candles and lamps at sunset and remembered that Jesus Christ is the Light of the world, the light no darkness can overcome, as the Gospel for Christmas says (John 1:5).
The hymn was originally in the Greek language, but is found in two different English translations in Lutheran Service Book. The first is in the service of Evening Prayer—”Joyous light of glory.” We will use this service for our Advent services at 4:30 p.m. this Advent season.
The second place is hymn #888.
O gladsome Light, O Grace Of God the Father’s face Eternal splendor wearing: Celestial, holy, blest, Our Savior Jesus Christ, Joyful in Thine appearing!
As daylight turns to night, We see the fading light, Our evening hymn outpouring, Father of might unknown, Thee, His incarnate Son, And Holy Ghost adoring.
To Thee of right belongs All praise of holy songs, O Son of God, Lifegiver; Thee, therefore, O Most High, The world doth glorify And shall exalt forever.
In the old hymnal (TLH, 1941) this hymn was in the Christmas section. While it is an appropriate hymn for any time of the year, Christmas is when it really shines. This year, we will use this hymn in a ceremonial candle-lighting for the Christmas Eve candlelight service along with some responses for Christmas and a prayer of thanksgiving for light before we close with Silent Night. I think it will be a very poignant moment, and I hope you feel the same way!
To familiarize yourself with this hymn, you can listen on Youtube.
November 1 is All Saints’ Day. “Our churches teach that the history of saints may be set before us so that we may follow the example of their faith and good works, according to our calling” (Augsburg Confession XXI 1). On All Saints’ Day we remember those who have died in the faith, the great host of the faithful who are at rest.