The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

BREAK FORTH, O BEAUTEOUS HEAVENLY LIGHT

Words: Johann Rist (1607-1677), 1641;
Verse 1 translated from German to English by John Troutbeck, circa 1885, et. al.
Verse 2 translated by Arthur Tozer Russell, 1806-1874.

Music: "Ermuntre Dich" or "Schop", Johann Schop (1590-1667), 1641;
Harmony by Johann Sebastian Bach, 1734.

1. Break forth, O beauteous heavenly light,
And usher in the morning;
O [1] shepherds, shrink not with afright,
But hear the angel's warning.
This Child, now weak [2] in infancy,
Our confidence and joy shall be,
The power of Satan breaking,
Our peace eternal making. [3]

2. All blessing, thanks and praise to thee,
Lord Jesus Christ, be given;
Thou hast our brother deigned to be,
Our foes in sunder riven.
O grant us through our day of grace
With constant praise to seek Thy face;
Grant us ere long in glory
With praises to adore thee.

Notes:

1. Or: Ye
2. Or: born
3. Another version has the last four lines:
This child, this little helpless boy
Shall be our confidence and joy
The powers of hell o’erthrowing,
At last our peace bestowing

William L. Simon, ed., Reader’s Digest Merry Christmas Songbook (1981)

One of Martin Luther’s principal resolves when beset out to reform the Church in the late 15th century was to involve people more deeply in the celebration of the Mass. To this end, he developed the Lutheran chorale, a religious hymn sung in four-part harmony by the congregation as part of the service. Johann Sebastian Bach made great use of the idea; at intervals in his pieces, he would insert a chorale for the congregation to sing sometimes one he had written, sometimes one from the hymnal. "Break Forth, O Beauteous, Heavenly Light" is one of the latter. It was written by Johann Rist and Johann Schop in the mid-17th century, so that by 1734, when Bach included it in his Christmas Oratorio, it was well known to congregations. The harmonization, however, is Bach ‘s own.