Home Worship Planning History of Hymns History of Hymns: 'Longing for Light' ('Christ Be Our Light')

History of Hymns: 'Longing for Light' ('Christ Be Our Light')

By Sze Man Symantha Leung, Guest Contributor

Bernadette Farreell
Bernadette Farrell

“Longing for Light” (“Christ Be Our Light”)
by Bernadette Farrell
Glory to God, 314
Upper Room Worshipbook, 114

Christ, be our light!
Shine in our hearts.
Shine through the darkness.
Christ, be our light!
Shine in your church gathered today.
*© 1993 Bernadette Farrell. All rights reserved.

“Longing for Light” (“Christ Be Our Light”) by Bernadette Farrell (b.1957) was first published in 1993. Farrell was educated at King’s College of London and then entered the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, UK, for further study. A prolific composer of worship music since the 1980s, she has published more than 75 songs and one Catholic Mass. She has worked as a diocesan music advisor for Southwark and Westminster and as a workshop presenter both in the UK and the USA.

Her ministry, closely related to social action, reflects her strong commitment to justice and peace. “Drawing inspiration from Scripture . . . Bernadette has a gift for composing richly meaningful, often challenging lyrics and comforting, prayerful melodies” (Racine, 2021, p. 33) As one of the lead organizers of Citizens UK, an influential organization for social change in the UK, her ardor for social justice is evident in many of her songs, including “Longing for Light.”

This hymn recalls the message of scripture as found in Isaiah 60:1–3.

Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will appear over you.
Nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn (Isa 60:1–3, NIV).

We live in a world revolving around destitution, distrust, hostility, abuse, violence, war, and the like. Our world and church still long for signs of God’s kingdom through Jesus Christ, the light of the world. His light shines upon us amid the world’s darkness, hardship, hunger, and homelessness.

The author incorporates itemization in the incipit (opening line) of each stanza:

Stanza 1: “Longing for light”
Stanza 2: “Longing for peace”
Stanza 3: “Longing for food”
Stanza 4: “Longing for shelter”

Farrell summons us to serve in God’s kingdom through prayers and actions, participating in social concerns and responsibilities to the world. This recalls Christ’s mission to rescue people from the darkness and restore us to the light—giving sight to the blind, healing the lame, cleansing the lepers, raising the dead—proclaiming the gospel to the poor (Matt 11: 4–5).

While Christ’s great concern is illustrated in each intercessory stanza, the format of stanzas 1–4 can be divided into two halves in which the first two lines acknowledge the reality of the world and the need for change, and the last two lines respond with our commitment to God. Stanza 1 focuses on longing for Christ as our light and truth. (Jn 8:12, 14:6), praying that we could be God’s “holy people” “for the world to see” (1 Pet 2:9). The second stanza highlights longing for Christ as our peace and hope (1 Tim 1:1, 3), releases us from our “troubled world,” and saves us with his powerful words (Lk 24:19). Stanza 3 prays for those who have no food or water, imploring us to serve and feed the people in need (Matt 25:35). Stanza 4 continues the themes established in previous stanzas, praying for the homeless and inviting us to protect and care for others (Ps 18:2, Eph 2:20–22). The last stanza encapsulates people’s yearning to belong to God and exhorts us to be servants to one another, making God’s kingdom on earth. This vision of hope gives impetus to the refrain as our corporate prayer for the church in the world. “Christ, be our light! Shine in your church gathered today” (Eph 5:8).

Farrell effectively employs the metaphor of light and shows a strong contrast between light and darkness, deepening the imagery and meaning of the text. A wedding of tune and text forges a powerful impact on the message delivered. Farrell’s tune CHRIST BE OUR LIGHT flows in 3/4 time and soars with the melodic range of a tenth. It begins in a lower vocal register and features a steady ascending motion with stepwise intervals and more accessible skips, making it singable for an average congregation. The melodic shape of the four phrases of each stanza delineates an arch-like contour, the successive higher pitches creating a directional and effective lead-in to the refrain. The musical and emotional intensity is finally attained in the climax of the refrain, hovering from “darkness” to “light” and “despair” to “hope,” which imparts a sense of arriving “home” and uniting with Christ—the true Light.

Though “Longing for Light” is recommended for the Christian liturgical seasons of Advent and Lent, seasons of introspection and preparation, it could be used for the Feast of Epiphany—the manifestation of Christ as the Son of God, to be “bread, broken for others” (stanza 3). It also helps support liturgical themes such as Christian life, church, ministry, social justice, and hope throughout the year.


“Christ be our Light – Reflections,” The Parish of Merthyr Tydfil (March 1, 2021), https://parishofmerthyrtydfil.com/news/christ-be-our-light-reflections (accessed January 16, 2023).

Marie T. Racine, “Christ, Be Our Light: An Epiphany Encounter,” Obsculta, Vol. 14, no. 1, Article 6, (September 2021), https://digitalcommons.csbsju.edu/obsculta/vol14/iss1/6/ (accessed January 11, 2023).

Bill Tamblyn, “Bernadette Farrell,” Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology, Canterbury Press, http://www.hymnology.co.uk/b/bernadette-farrell (accessed January 10, 2023).

J. Richard Watson, “Longing for Light, We Wait in Darkness (‘Christ, Be Our Light’),” Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology, Canterbury Press, http://www.hymnology.co.uk/l/longing-for-light,-we-wait-in-darkness-(‘christ,-be-our-light’) (accessed January 10, 2023).

David L. Whidden, Christ the Light, Fortress Press, 2014, https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9m0tdd.12 (accessed January 16, 2023).

Jennie Wintermote, “Longing for Light: Preparing for Advent” (November 15, 2021), Western District Conference, https://mennowdc.org/longing-for-light-preparing-for-advent/, (accessed January 16, 2023).

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Bible verses marked NIV are from Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Symantha Leung is a vocal teacher and a liturgical singer. She has been an adjunct lecturer in various theological seminaries in Hong Kong. She holds a BA (Hons) Degree in Music Education from Hong Kong Baptist University and a Master of Music Degree from the University of Sheffield, the UK, majoring in vocal performance. She was awarded a post-graduate Certificate in Vocal Performance at Trinity College of Music, London. For her theological background, she obtained a Master of Christian Studies Degree from the China Graduate School of Theology in Hong Kong. Symantha is a candidate in the Doctor of Pastoral Music program at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University, where she studies hymnology with C. Michael Hawn.

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