Wednesday 6th January – We Three Kings
John Henry Hopkins, a priest of the Episcopal Church in America wrote this for a Christmas pageant and it has become a firm favourite though often banished from our hymnbooks! It theologies the meaning of the three gifts.
St Matthew 2: 7-11
Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.’ When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
We Three Kings Of Orient Are
John Henry Hopkins Jr 1857
We three kings of Orient are
Bearing gifts we traverse afar
Field and fountain, moor and mountain
Following yonder star
O Star of wonder, star of night
Star with royal beauty bright
Westward leading, still proceeding
Guide us to thy Perfect Light
Born a King on Bethlehem’s plain
Gold I bring to crown Him again
King forever, ceasing never
Over us all to reign
Frankincense to offer have I
Incense owns a Deity nigh
Prayer and praising, all men raising
Worship Him, God most high
Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume
Breathes of life of gathering gloom
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying
Sealed in the stone-cold tomb
Glorious now behold Him arise
King and God and Sacrifice
Earth to heav’n replies
And so the Christmas season comes to an end with Epiphany – but in our culture, of course, the decorations have been taken down in public places and the carols stopped on Christmas day. In many countries an older custom of giving gifts today is followed – in honour of the mysterious magi who brought gifts to Jesus. Today’s carol is probably the most popular of all the Epiphany hymns but is often omitted from hymnbooks – it’s not in the Church of Scotland’s CH4, our Rejoice and Sing, the Methodism’s Singing the Faith nor was it in the Churches of Christ’s Christian Hymnody nor Congregational Praise. It remains in Mission Praise and in the popular imagination. There is rich theology here about the gifts presented to the Christ-Child.
Gold for a king, frankincense for a priest, myrrh for a sacrifice. The threefold aspect of who Jesus was laid bare in these gifts. Heaven only knows what Mary and Joseph made of them though I suspect the gold and frankincense, in particular, would have been useful when they were in Exile in Egypt. Maybe they sold the gifts to survive as refugees now have to sell all they have in order to make perilous journeys to safety.
At the start of this new year we offer ourselves to God again as living gifts. We don’t know how we will be used, how our churches will respond to and recover from all that we endured in 2020, but we know that as we offer our gifts to God we will be blessed just as the wise ones, years ago, were blessed in their act of giving.
Take our gifts
and use them for your glory.