Visit my hometown of Winston-Salem, North Carolina during the month of December, and you’ll inevitably scratch your head when you pass a church marquee inviting you to a Lovefeast. No, this isn’t referring to some sort of event that your great aunt won’t discuss from her days as a hippie. The Lovefeast is a tradition celebrated in the Moravian church throughout the days approaching Christmas, often on Christmas Eve. Christians gather to sing carols, pray together, consider God’s word, and partake of a feast (composed of a zesty orange flavored bun, chased by a hot beverage that will satisfy those who prefer a bit of coffee with their sugar). The sweetest moment, however, always comes when hundreds of beeswax candles are lit in the darkened sanctuary, and then raised along with many singing voices.
Always included in the order of worship is “Morning Star,” a Moravian carol sung antiphonally, which means that the words are sung back and forth between two groups. Most often, children lead the adults in singing the lyrics.
Even more evident than the cute factor is the hope present in listening to a 6 or 7-year old earnestly sing the opening lines of the song: “Morning Star, O cheering sight! Ere thou cam’st, how dark earth’s night!” With each year that passes, I’m more aware of the darkness that pervades this world and my own heart – and yet I continue to be reminded that there remains the steadfast light of God’s love that pierces through the longest of nights. As I sing the same phrase back along with hundreds of others, I’m assured that I am not alone. God is present and so are his people, faithfully stumbling and seeking the light.
It’s befitting to hear the singular voice of a child as the back-and-forth singing continues, especially at the time of year when we celebrate how the great hope of mankind entered the world as a helpless babe. The prophet Isaiah had much to say about the coming Messiah and his promised kingdom of peace: “The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them” (11:6). It’s easier to believe that this will one day be a reality as I join the chorus and marvel at the myriad of flickering candles.
In this carol, Jesus is referred to as the “Morning Star.” I’ve sung this song countless times over the years, but recently realized I didn’t quite comprehend the meaning. I always assumed it had something to do with the time at which Jesus entered the world, early in the morning when the angels announced his birth to the lowly shepherds. Or perhaps it’s a reference to the star that rose at his birth and beckoned the wise men on a journey to worship Jesus. There are also two direct references in the Bible to Jesus as the “morning star” in John’s book of Revelation.
Scientists describe the morning star as the brightest in the night sky – though the term “star” is actually a misnomer for the planet Venus – and the term “morning star” is most often applied when the planet is visible in the east before sunrise. So the term “morning star” also beautifully points to the son of God who lived on earth as Immanuel, “God with us.” He was as solid and tangible as a planet, shining brightly, but not nebulous and ethereal like a star. Just like our steadfast Lord, the morning star is often present all throughout the night (sometimes called the evening star), until the darkness is engulfed by the rising sun. The morning star, like Jesus, reveals hope in the dark: ““I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (John 8:16). As the song continues: “Morning Star, my soul’s true light, tarry not, dispel my night.”
Interestingly, a weapon developed in 14th century Germany was called a “morning star.” It consisted of a spiked metal ball attached by chain to a club, swung around to inflict harm upon an enemy. Odd as it may seem, this serves as a poignant reminder of the brutal torture that Jesus endured at the hands of his enemies before his death upon the cross. I am humbled by the fact that I too was his enemy, before Jesus made a way to be at peace through his death and resurrection! As Paul writes in Romans 5:10, “For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!”
This is what we’re proclaiming when we sing: “Jesus mine, in me shine; in me shine, Jesus mine; fill my heart with light divine.”
Now I’ll be honest – I’ve suffered through some dreary renderings of this song through the years, which likely had something to do with the organist’s slow pace or my particular gift of singing off-key. Perhaps I was thinking more about the history of the Moravian people who settled my hometown over 250 years ago, rather than the history of our everlasting God. The same God who created the stars and “called them all by name” (Isaiah 40:26) promised Abraham that his descendants would be “as numerous as the stars in the sky” (Genesis 22:17) all along knowing that the plan for their salvation would require that the brightest star – Jesus – be extinguished.
Part of the plan included baby Jesus being ushered into the world during the night, bringing the light of God into the darkness of humankind. John writes, “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind” (1:4). It’s also recorded that darkness fell upon the land when Jesus gave up his life on the cross. Yet the faithful know, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it!” (John 1:5) Because we know that Easter is as real as Christmas, we sing not only to celebrate Christ’s birth, but also Christ’s resurrection from the dead.
Jesus even speaks to this reality in the future. Revelation 22:16 records, “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you his testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.” He is alive, the beginning and end of all things, the ultimate keeper of promises, the source of all light and love.
We are always feasting on God’s love. His kindness and mercy are ever-present and never ceasing. Still, I am thankful for seasons and songs that help us consider his love in new ways. As the days become shorter and the darkness of this world looms larger, I anticipate the annual Lovefeast this December with a growing hope that may cause me to sing more boldly off-key and louder than usual: “Morning Star, thy glory bright far excels the sun’s clear light. Jesus be, constantly, constantly, Jesus be more than thousand suns to me.”
For favorite hymns, carols, and songs from the Rooted staff and steering committees, check out the Rooted Christmas Spotify playlist. Merry Christmas!