Awake, awake, fling off the night

Today’s hymn, keeping up the theme of light in this Epiphany season, is “Awake, awake, fling off the night”. The light of Christ is contrasted with the darkness of sin.  It is a biblical message: “light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19). Sin and evil are often associated with darkness, because when we know that what we are doing is wrong – and most of the time we do – we naturally want to hide from it.  So most crime is committed at night, or down dark alleyways, or in other places where the criminal will not be disturbed. 

The constant theme of Scripture is that God is everywhere and knows everything we do, indeed every secret thought.  There are no dark places, no hidden corners, where we can hide from God to do our evil deeds unnoticed. As the psalmist puts it. “Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?” (Ps. 139:7). 

That sounds scary – God the policeman who patrols wherever we choose to walk, as well as being the judge who passes sentence. The good news is that in Jesus, God also becomes the one who pardons.   But as in human relationships and penal systems, there can only be pardon where there is contrition. The first step is to admit our sin to God and ask forgiveness.  Then the pardon can come, and light replace the darkness.  So the last verse of the hymn encourages the forgiven sinner to sing for joy and praise God.

1 thought on “Awake, awake, fling off the night”

  1. I enjoyed singing this hymn – thoroughly biblical and encouraging, and a great tune with it (although I prefer the harmonisation in Hymns Ancient & Modern). I spent a long time looking for the bible verses on which the hymn is based, before finding the entry in the Canterbury dictionary of hymns ( https://hymnology.hymnsam.co.uk/a/awake,-awake-fling-off-the-night ) which says it is based on Ephesians 5:8-10. It is obviously fleshed out considerably with references to other parts of scripture: “put away ” and “put on” are Eph 4:22-24, “fruits of” is Gal 5:22, and verses 4 and 5 go on to Eph 5:14 & 19-20. The only line I couldn’t really nail down was the idea of kneeling at the cross for guidance.

    An obvious difficulty with this kind of scriptural passage is to avoid moralising and giving the impression that salvation is by purity of life and good works. The dynamic of Paul’s writing is always that we receive the Spirit who enables us to live up to our calling, and I think this hymn gets the Pauline balance right. It is God who sent Christ’s light and his Spirit and these are got into the hymn right at the beginning, so that the change in life follows on from the infilling of the Spirit, instead of putting the cart of works before the horse of grace.

    To me the whole hymn just shows what can be done with a determined attempt to get beneath the skin of a biblical text and draw out its fundamentals in metrical form, and I think it’s great!

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