STLT#259, We Three Kings of Orient Are

O happy day. (Oh happy day)
Oh happy day! (Oh happy day!)
When this blog (when this blog)
Oh when this blog (when this blog)
Oh, my goodness, when this blog (when this blog)
Got to Epiphany! (Oh happy day!)

I was saying to my sister last night how tired I am getting of Christmas hymns and that thankfully it’s almost over. I somehow thought I had one more Christmas carol proper before hitting this song of the Epiphany, so imagine my joy! I mean, holy cow, it’s been since the middle of May with this Christmas stuff. But now we’re at the Epiphany, the liturgical day when the Magi arrive from the east to bring gifts to Jesus and his parents.

Now to me, it’s a pretty dubious moment, only appearing in the Gospel of Matthew, and you have to wonder if this was a storytelling trope to impress upon the earliest listeners and then readers of the importance of this child’s birth. And remember, this is the gospel that carefully details the lineage from David, so Matthew isn’t messing around here with the “this birth is important” stuff. And while the gifts are not exactly what a new mom really needs (diapers and blankets would have killed them?), they are all part of that Important Birth of An Important Person thing that Matthew’s banging on about. And I gotta say, it’s rather anathema to the whole “poor baby born in a manger” vibe the birth narrative is otherwise going for.

But I digress. (I blame the squirrel, who MIGHT have escaped finally late last night but not before ripping down the curtains in my room.)

Here we are, with this intriguing holy day, and this carol – which on its own isn’t THAT bad, except for all the terrible versions of it that we’ve heard and sung over the years that make it cloyingly annoying and trite. And at least we have one Epiphany carol, thanks to a 19th century Episcopalian named John Henry Hopkins, Jr.

We three kings of Orient are; bearing gifts we traverse afar,
field and fountain, moor and mountain, following yonder star.

(Chorus)
O Star of wonder, star of light, star, with royal beauty bright,
westward leading, still proceeding, guide us through this perfect night.

Frankincense to offer have I, incense owns a Deity nigh.
Prayer and praising, all are raising, worship God most high.

(Chorus)

Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume breathes a life of gathering gloom;
sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying, sealed in the stone-cold tomb.

(Chorus)

Born a babe on Bethlehem’s plain, gold I bring to crown him again,
love forever, ceasing never, in our hearts to reign.

(Chorus)

I give the guy credit – Hopkins tried to imbue the tune and the lyrics with majesty and import. And done right, without the drinking-song-ishness of the “Ooooh….oooohhhh” that leads into the chorus, it achieves it. But I’m sorry to say we’ve probably ruined this one in our sloppy Christmas caroling.

And so here it is. We nod to this stop in our Christian liturgical calendar, because to skip it would be inauthentic. Plus, many times we need to put this story in some context, and it’s good to have a familiar song to do it with. It’s clearly not a favorite of mine…but I don’t mind singing it today, because it means tomorrow we start Passover.

Oh happy day!

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