God lights our souls within

Throughout the liturgical year there are some hymns which seem to draw together all that I hold dear in biblical imagery and incarnational theology. Hail to the Lord who comes is one of those hymns. This hymn helps me make an immediate connection between the Gospel scene and my own life. Sometimes I need those connections to be very obvious.

Hail to the Lord who comes,
Comes to the temple gate,
Not with his angel hosts,
Nor in his kingly state;

But borne upon the throne
Of Mary’s gentle breast;
Thus to his father’s house
He comes, a humble guest.

The world’s true light draws near
All darkness to dispel,
The flame of faith is lit
And dies the power of hell.

Our bodies and our souls
Are temples now for him,
For we are born of grace –
God lights our souls within.

O Light of all the earth!
We light our lives with thee;
The chains of darkness gone
All sons of God are free. 

The hymn opens with a scene that is fairly easy to picture: Mary and Joseph, a little travel weary, come in faithfulness to the Temple, clutching their precious child. I imagine them standing on the Temple threshold, breathing in the sacred. They are filled with that awe that we have all experienced when we enter a sacred place. I imagine Joseph holding the offering tight and Mary holding Jesus tight. The gift in Joseph’s hands represents the love and longing of every faithful Jew to fulfill the Torah. The gift in Mary’s hand represents the love and longing of everyone who looked forward to the coming of the Saviour.

Can we see ourselves in the scene? Can we picture our hands open with all that we hold precious?

The world’s true light draws near
All darkness to dispel

The promise of this light draws Simeon and Anna near. They have walked towards this light all their lives. Each prayer, each small act of kindness, each fulfilling of the Torah has made space inside them to recognise and receive the light. And there they stand, bathed in that light. God’s promises have come full circle.

Our bodies and our souls
Are temples now for him,

These are the lines that touch me most from this hymn. They speak of wholeness and the goodness of every created thing. Read alongside the Gospel text they invite each one of us to be that Temple. We build the Temple out of the many fragments of our lives. It’s incarnational. It’s messy. But the promise is there that we are ‘born of grace’ and God ‘lights our souls within’. We were carried once, a precious bundle held tight. Our parents made an offering of all they held dear when they brought us to church for Baptism. God’s light has always been within us.

We light our lives with thee;
The chains of darkness gone
All sons of God are free. 

In these days of darkness and uncertainty we might look outside ourselves for light. In fact, the light we seek is already within us. We often glimpse it in others first. Today’s feast is an invitation to celebrate the light within each one of us.