“O How Beautiful the Sky”: A Scandinavian Hymn for Epiphany
Also translated, “Bright and Glorious is the Sky” (ELH 120), this delightful hymn for Christmas and Epiphany comes from the country of Denmark. If you could, by some chance, worship in a Danish Lutheran church this past Sunday, you would probably be singing this hymn.
Everything about this hymn is joyous- the words, the meaning, the melody. To hear this hymn and read the words click here.
“Bright and glorious is the sky,” it begins. The first verse paints a picture with words. What a beautiful sight the heavens are with unnumbered stars shining like jewels in the dark night! These are the same stars the Wise Men saw. But the Wise Men discovered a special star, one that shone brighter and more brilliantly than all the rest. They hymn goes on to tell the story of how the “sages from the East far” (v. 3) followed the “Christmas star” (v. 2). The star led them to the “King of nations” (v. 3), who wore no crown or “diadem” (v. 4). Rather they found the Babe of Bethlehem.
The poet tells us that we have a star to guide us, too. The sixth stanza gives us the clue. It is “God’s holy Word.” The light from its “sacred pages” will shine upon “our path of life.” It “forever will provide us/ with the light to find our Lord” (v. 5).
This hymn is sung to a lilting melody that almost sings itself. You will note that the composer of this tune is not known. People were probably singing this Danish melody when the words were written.
The Danish name for the tune is DEJIG ER DEN HIMMEL BLAA. The tune is also known by the Latin name, CELESTIA, meaning “heavens,” reflecting the the words of the hymn.
Nikolai Grundtvig is the author of “O How Beautiful the Sky.” His name is a famous one in Denmark and in the Lutheran Church. This gifted poet and hymn-writer was also a fiery and fearless preacher. He is sometimes known as the “Poet of Whitsuntide” (Pentecost). A number of his other hymns appear in the Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary, including “Built on a Rock” (ELH 211) and “God’s Word is our Great Heritage” (ELH 583).
(Article adapted from Katherine J. Weller, We Sing to God (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1964) p. 14.
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