Intended to be sung the first Sunday in Advent, this hymn was first included in Crüger’s Praxis pietatis melica, 1653, no. 81, in 10 stanzas of 8 lines. It later appeared in Ebeling’s Pauli Gerhardi Geistliche Andachten, 1666/67, no. 49, and in Feustking’s Pauli Gerhardi Geistreiche Hauss- und Kirchen-Lieder, 1707, p. 1.
Gerhardt bases this hymn on the Hildebrandslied (Song of Hildebrand, c. 830)—one of the earliest Germanic poems—using two cross rhymes. The meter and rhyme scheme are popular in folk and church songs at the time. However, in contrast to medieval poetry, alliteration is sparse (e.g., “da Fried und Freude lacht”).
The stanzas consist of two cross-rhymes, alternating soft and hard endings. The hymn uses four paired lines: the climax being in the caesura after the second pair. The caesura is followed by a declaration and call to prayer (e.g., “O Jesu, Jesu,” “er kommt, er kommt,” and “ach komm, ach komm”).
The hymn is divided in two parts: Stanzas 1–5 and 6–10. The first part is prayerfully addressed to Jesus—characterized by the verbs “empfangen” (to receive) and umfangen (to embrace). They unfold as an individual address to the coming Christ God’s unconditional devotion to human beings, as recognized by the Lutheran doctrine of justification. This is done with reference to the parable of the wise and foolish virgins (Matthew 25:1-15) with “die Fackel” (the torch) in stanza 1 and by implementing the pericope of the first Sunday in Advent, Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem (Matthew 21:1-9) in stanza 2. Gerhardt now calls on Jesus to enter into the heart of the Christians.
Stanzas 6 to 10 address the congregation as a pastoral encouragement, portraying it as being in grief, distress, terror and hostility. This is done with special reference to the approaching Last Judgment depicted in John’s Revelation (stanza 6: the Coming One “stands at the door,” Rev 3:20), and in stanzas 7 to 10 the concept of Advent (Latin: “arrival,” Rev 22:20) is unfolded fourfold: He comes by grace, as Savior, as King and as Judge.
The translations that have endured in American hymnals are adaptations of Jacobi, Russell, and Winkworth—particularly from Mercer’s Church Psalter and Hymn Book and Winkworth’s Chorale Book of England. Most occurances of this hymn are limited to less than six stanzas of the original ten. Hewitt offers a commentary on some of the early English translations.
|How shall I meet my Savior||10/10||1722||Jacobi||PG22 p.3|
|How shall I meet my Savior||10/10||1732||Jacobi||PG32 p.3|
|Lord, how shall I be meeting||10/10||1850||Alexander||KF p.176|
|Oh, how shall I receive Thee||5/10||1851||Russell||PH 36|
|How shall I meet Thee? How my heart||9/10||1855||Winkworth||LG p.7|
|Oh, how shall I receive Thee||5/10||1857||Anon.||CPHB 5|
|Ah! Lord, how shall I meet thee||6/10||1863||Winkworth||CBE 21|
|How shall I come to meet Thee||10/10||1863||Mannington||FHD p.65|
|Lord, how shall I receive Thee||10/10||1864||Massie||LD2 p.93|
|Say with what salutations||10/10||1867||Kelly||PGSS p.10|