Dayspring From On High
One of my favorite parts about celebrating Christmas each year is the many wonderful hymns that focus on the coming of Jesus into the world. These hymns have a rich theology and are set to memorable melodies. They capture the wonder of Jesus’ coming and draw us into the dark realities for which he came. They remind us that Jesus is exalted high above us and is also near to us in our sin and sadness.
I just love these songs.
But every so often a line comes across one of these hymns that leaves us scratching our heads. Wait, what did we just sing? Our church has just begun singing this great song by Christy Nickels called Advent Hymn. The chorus ends with the lines: “Dayspring from on high be near / Daystar in my heart appear.” These are not images we use very often. And what does it mean that Jesus is these things?
Well, here are some common images from Christmas hymns and their rich and beautiful connection with Jesus:
O come Thou Dayspring come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight
— O Come O Come Emmanuel
In Luke 1 chapter, we see the story of Elizabeth and Zechariah. After the birth of their son, John, Zechariah sings this beautiful song of praise to God (Luke 1:67–79). In it he praises God for rescuing and redeeming his people. The birth of his son, John, was the signal that the Messiah was coming. John would be a prophet in the line of Elijah who would herald the coming of the Savior King. And in this song, Zechariah connects the coming of Jesus with the image of the dayspring.
Dayspring was a reference to the dawn. We don’t use this term much anymore. Modern Bibles render this phrase “the sunrise shall visit us.” But the King James Versions translates verse 78 like this: "Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us.” Jesus is the coming dawn that brings light to our darkness (Luke 1:78). He is the rising sun that dispels the darkness of our sin, of our sorrow, of our suffering (Isaiah 9:2). He is the Light of the World who brings us the light of life (John 8:12). Jesus is our Dayspring who will chase our darkness away.
So here I’ll wait in hope of you
All my soul's longing through and through
Dayspring from on high be near
Daystar in my heart appear
— Advent Hymn
The morning star was a common image in the Bible and among the ancient people. It refers to the last star that would hang on as the sun was rising. It was the biggest and brightest star. It was a common image to use of rulers to show their strength and majesty. The Bible calls the heavenly beings morning stars (Job 38:7). The king of Babylon is called a morning star (Isaiah 14:12). Jesus, however, is the Morning Star.
Jesus is called the Morning Star in 2 Peter 1:19 and Revelation 22:16. While many may have claimed to be the morning star, Jesus alone is the true Morning Star. He is the star that would come forth from Jacob, the king from Israel who would rule the nations (Numbers 24:17). He is the star that shines the brightness of the glory of the Lord (Isaiah 60:1–2). He is the light that shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome him (John 1:5). Jesus is our Daystar who will bring us everlasting light.
Rod of Jesse
Joy to those who long to see Thee
Dayspring from on high appear
Come, Thou promised Rod of Jesse
Of Thy birth, we long to hear
— Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus
This one seems way out there. Who is Jesse? And why are we calling Jesus a rod? This reference is actually a very important image in the coming of Christ. The prophets often describe the people of Israel as God’s choice vine. But through their disobedience, they were sent into exile. And they were cut down to just a stump. The prophet Isaiah, knowing God won’t give up on this people offers this hope: "There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit,” (Isaiah 11:1).
Jesse was the father of David and God is promising to bring a new David. A new king who would lead Israel to faithful worship of their God. The hope of Israel was tied up in the branch, this root, this rod that would come from Jesse. But not just Israel. This branch of Jesse will also bring blessing to the nations of the earth (Isaiah 11:10). Jesus is this Righteous Branch that will rule as heaven’s wise king (Jeremiah 23:5). He is the Root of David that has conquered sin and evil (Revelation 22:16). He is the Root of Jesse in whom the nations will put their hope (Romans 15:12). Jesus is our Rod of Jesse who will bring life and resurrection from what was once dead.
Sun of Righteousness
Hail! the heaven-born Prince of peace!
Hail! the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings,
Risen with healing in his wings
— Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
This is one that you probably thought was a typo. In fact, if you google the lyrics you’ll probably find it spelled “son of righteous.” Why is Jesus called the sun? What does that mean? It’s actually a direct quote from Malachi 4. The prophet is looking forward to a coming day of judgment for those who don’t serve God. But there is hope for those who do. "But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall, ” (Malachi 4:2).
These Christmas songs pick up on this imagery and connect it with Jesus. Similar to the idea of the Dayspring, there is a sun of righteousness rising for God’s people. And it will bring healing with its wings. Jesus is the King who will bring justice and righteousness to the world (Isaiah 9:7). He is the Light that brings healing to the sick and the poor (Isaiah 61:1–4). He is the one who rose in his coming, who rose from the dead, and who will rise again up the earth (1 Thessalonians 4:14–17). Jesus is our Sun of Righteous who will heal everything broken in the world and in us.
So as you sing Christmas hymns this year, would you join me in lifting your heart to Jesus? He is our Dayspring. He is our bright Morning Star. He is our promised Root of Jesse. He is our rising Sun of Righteousness. Come, let's adore Jesus for who he is. And let's praise him for the light and life he brings.