A relatively new hymn to our Lutheran Service Book comes from Rev. Stephen P. Starke, a Michigan pastor and hymnist. Starke was born in the Bay City, MI area in 1955. He attended Concordia University, Ann Arbor (my own Alma Mater) for his associate’s degree, Concordia University Chicago with his bachelor of arts, and finally attended Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, IN for his master’s of divinity. Stephen is now married. He and his wife have four children and one little granddaughter. He has served at a couple of different churches outside of Michigan, but as of 2000, he finds himself back home in Bay City to serve a congregation there.
Though he always loved hymns, it wasn’t until after his graduation from seminary that he began writing hymns. Since that time, he has written at least 175, including hymns for various celebratory events. He has even received a couple of honorary doctorate degrees because of his work with hymns! As a great hymnist, there is little wonder that he was asked to join the committee for the Lutheran Hymnal Project, from which we received our Lutheran Service Book. It is this hymnal that we find “What Hope! An Eden Prophesied” for the first time, though he penned the hymn back in 1998, around the time the Hymnal Project began! It is also one of the most recent Advent hymns added to our hymnal, with another more recent also added by Starke.
This hymn was paired with a tune called CONSOLATION in the LSB. This setting comes from a Kevin Hildebrand, derived from John Wyeth’s Repository of Sacred Music of 1813. Though once misattributed, Elkanah Kelsey Dare composed this tune, first referred to as MORNING SONG. Dare was central to Wyeth’s shape-note Repository book. Dare left his home state of New Jersey and moved to Pennsylvania, where he married and had ten children. It was here he met Wyeth and worked on his hymnbook. Both of these men were active contributors to music in America, especially in this part of the country.
Though this hymn is relatively new, the words have a timeless quality, drawing us back to the Scriptures and when they were written, calling us forward to the day of Christ’s next coming. In this hymn, we rest assured in the promises of God that have come to fruition and those we wait for in hope.
What hope! An Eden prophesied Where tame live with the wild;
The lamb and lion side by side, Led by a little child!
As this is a hymn of the promises of God, we begin with that first promise in which the ancients had faith: the promise of a Savior! This promise is first spoken of after the Rebellion in Eden and repeated throughout the Old Testament (Gen. 3:15, Heb. 11:10, 13). That promise has come to pass in the first coming of Jesus Christ; thus, we have hope in this second promise (Gen. 12:2-3, Isa. 11:6-10, 65:25). So we are looking forward to that prophesied second Eden when all things will be restored to perfection as they were in the beginning (Rev. 21:1-5. Isa. 65:17, 2 Pet. 3:13).
A shoot will sprout from Jesse’s stem, A branch from David’s line,
A Prince of Peace in Bethlehem: The fruit of God’s design.
Here, we go back to that promise of a Savior, including also a sign of whom that savior will come: of David’s House in Bethlehem (Isa. 11:1, 10, Rom. 15:12, Mic. 5:2). This King will not be like the kings of old, or rulers now, but a King that will bring peace to Earth (Isa. 9:6, Luk. 2:14). This peace is also not an earthly peace but a heavenly peace, one where we are justified before God (Rom. 5:1). Once again, we are brought back to Eden, thinking of that fruit our first parents were not to have but rebelled and ate. But this was not what God has designed for mankind. So we think now on the peace that the Lord has brought us, as He promised, the “fruit of God’s design,” that we might not be left to languish in our sins but brought back into fellowship with Him. This was what was promised back in Eden, this fruit which God planted and we get to partake in!
As banner of God’s love unfurled, Christ came to suffer loss,
That by His death a dying world Would rally to the cross.
Here now we look to a sign the Lord gave us of His love: Christ unfurled, suffering on the Cross for us (Psa. 60:4-5, Phil. 2:8). He suffered because we rebelled, bringing loss to this relationship mankind was supposed to have with God. Our world was dying in the death of sin, our sin, and we were dead with it (Rom. 8:20-25). But we were not left to die. We now look on this sign of suffering with hope, for it was because of Christ’s innocent suffering and death that we have been made clean in God’s sight (Gal. 3:13-14, 1 Cor. 1:18, Gal. 6:14, Col. 1:19-20, 2:13-14).
Come, Jesus, come, Messiah Lord, Lost Paradise restore;
Lead past the angel’s flaming sword — Come, open heaven’s door.
With these promises in hand, both those that have been fulfilled and those we wait for in hope, we look forward to the day of Christ’s coming when He will restore all things. We look for our Anointed One, our King, Creator, and Redeemer as our forefathers looked for His first. We have peace, comfort, and hope in things yet unseen because we know the Lord keeps His promises! What better time to think about these things but at Advent? We were separated from life in Eden. But that Life has now been given to us! So we ask that He lead us to life everlasting with Him, where all will be restored as it was in this beginning (Acts 15:16-18, Gen. 3:24, Jhn. 14:2-3). This is the Eden prophesied, a dwelling with God as He had once designed for us, and we wait for that coming day with Hope (Rev. 22:20).
Blessings to you and yours,
~Madelyn Rose Craig
“342. What Hope! An Eden Prophesied.” The Lutheran Service Book. 2006.
CLARK KIMBERLING. “Elkanah Dare.” The Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology. Canterbury Press. 1 Dec. 2020.
Krull, Kim P. “10 Minutes with . . . Rev. Stephen P. Starke.” The Lutheran Witness, 6 Mar. 2012.
LaLonde, Pati. “Meet the Rev. Stephen Starke, the pastor who’s penned 175 hymns.” MLive, 21 Jan. 2011.
“MORNING SONG (Dare).” Hymnary.org.
Stephen P. Starke. Concordia Publishing House.