LOOK: Alpha and Omega by Larain Briggs
“Behold, I am coming soon. . . . I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”
This apocalyptic landscape painting by British artist Larain Briggs was on display at London’s gallery@oxo as part of the 2021 Chaiya Art Awards exhibition “God Is . . .” Briggs says it’s meant to evoke the book of Revelation.
“Although I perceived the painting to be a vision of the end, it is full of light and hope. The end can equally be viewed as a beginning,” she says. In the center of the composition a faint circular form rests on a heavily textured, curved platform of cloud and smoke (“Behold, he is coming with the clouds . . .” [Rev. 1:7]). At this focal point, turbulence resolves into tranquility and darkness gives way to light. This is the earth being transfigured by the arrival of her King.
The body of water at the bottom may be a reference to the “sea of glass mingled with fire” in Revelation 15:2.
LISTEN: “The King Shall Come” | Words by John Brownlie, based on miscellaneous Greek sources, 1907 | Music: American folk tune from Kentucky Harmony, 1816; arr. Minna Choi, 2020 | Performed by Tiffany Austin, 2020
The King shall come when morning dawns
And light triumphant breaks;
When beauty gilds the eastern hills
And life to joy awakes.
Not as of old, a little child
To bear, and fight, and die,
But crowned with glory like the sun
That lights the morning sky.
O brighter than the rising morn,
When He victorious rose,
And left the lonesome place of death,
Despite the rage of foes;—
O brighter than that glorious morn
Shall this fair morning be,
When Christ, our King, in beauty comes,
And we His face shall see.
The King shall come when morning dawns
And earth’s dark night is past;—
O haste the rising of that morn,
That day that aye shall last.
And let the endless bliss begin,
By weary saints foretold,
When right shall triumph over wrong,
And truth shall be extolled.
The King shall come when morning dawns,
And light and beauty brings;—
Hail! Christ the Lord; Thy people pray
Come quickly, King of kings.
“The King Shall Come” expresses hopeful longing for the return of Christ, which will bring about a new and lasting morn and the final passing of “earth’s dark night.” Stanza 2 contrasts Jesus’s first coming in suffering and struggle and sacrifice, his glory mostly veiled, with his second, when his glory will be unmistakable, his rule uncontested. The victory of that day, the hymnist writes, will be even more exhilarating than that of Christ’s resurrection, because it is total.
This hymn was written in the early twentieth century by the Scottish Presbyterian minister John Brownlie (1859–1925), who cites inspiration from the hymns of the Greek Orthodox Church. It was originally published in 1907 in Hymns from the East. In the introduction Brownlie writes, “The hymns are less translations or renderings, and more centos and suggestions. . . . The Greek has been used as a basis, a theme, a motive.” He differentiates this approach from that used in his previous volumes, which contain “truthfully rendered translations from the originals.”
Though the hymn is often attributed to an anonymous ancient Greek writer, most scholars consider it an original text by Brownlie that reflects his wide knowledge of Greek hymnody, as no Greek original has ever been found. It’s possible that the lines are a composite and expansion of fragments found in the Greek, but really, it’s a pastiche that nods to the centrality of light in Orthodox theology.
This wistful arrangement by City Church San Francisco worship arts assistant Minna Choi is performed by guest artist Tiffany Austin, a Bay Area jazz vocalist. The other musicians are Adam Shulman on piano, Jeff Marrs on drums, Jason Muscat on bass, and Wil Blades on organ. Their version omits stanzas 5–6, as do several hymnals.
For more Advent songs from City Church, see “Come, Oh Redeemer, Come,” “Come Light Our Hearts,” “I Wait,” and (from the kids in the congregation!) “O Come, Messiah, Come.” For Christmas music, see the church’s past Lessons and Carols services on YouTube; last year I did a write-up on the one from 2020.