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Notes on the Notes – January 8, 2017

This week’s theme:

A New Year – Same Old Star?

This week’s scripture readings:

Isaiah 60:1-6     Matthew 2:1-12

This week’s music:

“We Three Kings of Orient Are”


“We three kings of Orient are
Bearing gifts we traverse afar.
Field and fountain, moor and mountain,
Following yonder star.

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 on high.

Myrrh is mine: it’s bitter perfume
Breaths a life of gathering gloom.
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding dying,
Sealed in the stone-cold tomb.

Glorious now behold Him arise,
King and God and Sacrifice.
Alleluia, alleluia!
Sounds through the earth and skies.

O star of wonder, star of night,
Star with royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us to thy perfect Light”

The carol centres around the Biblical Magi, who visited Jesus during his Nativity and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  Though the event is recounted in the Gospel of Matthew, there are no further details given with regards to their names, the number of Magi that were present or whether they were even royal. Hence, the names of the Magi—Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar—and their status as kings from the Orient are legendary and based on tradition. The number three stems from the fact that there were three separate gifts that were given.

At the time he was writing “We Three Kings” in 1857, John Henry Hopkins, Jr. was serving as the rector of Christ Episcopal Church in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.   Hopkins studied at the General Theological Seminary in New York City and after graduating and being ordained a deacon in 1850, he became its first music teacher five years later, holding the post until 1857 alongside his ministry in the Episcopal Church.  During his final year of teaching at the seminary, Hopkins wrote “We Three Kings” for a Christmas pageant held at the college. It was extremely uncommon that Hopkins wrote both the lyrics and music; contemporary carol composers usually wrote either the lyrics or music but not both. Originally titled “Three Kings of Orient”, it was sung within his circle of family and friends. Because of the popularity it achieved among them, Hopkins decided to publish the carol in 1862 in his book Carols, Hymns and Songs. It was the first Christmas carol originating from the United States to achieve widespread popularity, as well as the first to be featured in Christmas Carols Old and New, a prestigious and influential collection of carols that was published in the United Kingdom.

Hear the carol sung by Kings College, Cambridge:  https://youtu.be/Lx35_DRIZ8g

Hear the carol by Eclipse 6 at:  https://youtu.be/obHJVGVCKGw

“As With Gladness Men of Old” (VU #81)

“As with gladness men of old did the guiding star behold,
As with joy they hailed its light, leading onward, beaming bright,
So, most gracious Lord, may we evermore your splendor see.

As with joyful steps they sped, to that lowly manger bed,
There to bend the knee before Christ, whom heaven and earth adore;
So may we with eager pace ever seek your throne of grace.

As they offered gifts most rare at that manger crude and bare,
So may we with holy joy, pure and free from sin’s alloy,
All our costliest treasures bring, Christ, to you, our heavenly King.

Holy Jesus, every day keep us in the narrow way;
And, when earthly things are past, bring our ransomed souls at last
Where they need no star to guide, where no clouds your glory hide.

In the heavenly country bright none shall need created light;
You its light, its joy, its crown, you its sun which goes not down;
There forever may we sing hallelujah to our King.”

William Dix, an insurance adjustor and amateur hymn-writer, wrote this song in 1858 after hearing the Epiphany Gospel.  The text is based upon Matthew 2:9-11 and Dix first published it in his own collection called Hymns of Love and Joy.   W.H. Monk adapted the tune from a 19th-century German choral specifically for this text and published it in the first edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern (1861).  Dix himself regretted the use of his text with this tune, written in his honor, but over time it has proved to be a good match.

Hear the hymn played on pipe organ at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=97wIbDRAJwU

“Brightest and Best of the Sons of the Morning” (R432)

“Brightest and best of the sons of the morning,
Dawn on our darkness, and lend us thine aid;
Star of the east, the horizon adorning,
Guide where our infant Redeemer is laid.

Cold on his cradle the dew-drops are shining;
Low lies his head with the beasts of the stall;
Angels adore him in slumber reclining,
Maker and monarch and saviour of all.

Say, shall we yield him, in costly devotion,
Odours of Edom, and offerings divine,
Gems of the mountain and pearls of the ocean,
Myrrh from the forst or gold from the mine?

Vainly we offer each ample oblation,
Vainly with gifts would his favour secure;
Richer by far is the heart’s adoration;
Dearer to God are the prayers of the poor.

Brightest and best of the sons of the morning,
Dawn on our darkness and lend us thine aid;
Star of the east, the horizon adorning,
Guide where our infant Redeemer is laid.”

This hymn was written by the Anglican bishop, Reginald A. Heber (1783-1826), in 1811 for the feast of Epiphany.  The melody we will be using was composed by Healy Willan (1880-1968).   United Church congregations became familiar with the hymn with Willan’s tune when it was published in The Hymn Book (1971), a joint publication of The United Church of Canada and the Anglican Church of Canada.

“Wise Men Saw the Light”

“While the world lay sleeping, dreaming through the night,
Wise Men searched the heavens looking for the light.
One star was a diamond burning in the sky.
Dreamers missed the meaning; sleepers missed the sign.

Far from home they traveled, walking day and night.winter-solstice-2015-777x437
Though their feet were weary, they pursued the light!
‘Til they found the promise, there would be no rest.
Dreamers missed the journey; sleepers missed the quest.

When the star had lingered where the infant lay,
They were filled with gladness as they knelt to pray.
When the night had ended and though the sun was bright,
Dreamers missed the miracle; sleepers missed the light.

Wise Men saw the miracle;
Wise Men saw the light.”

This song was written by Lloyd Larson in 2002.  Through the lyrics, Larson compares three ways of living and thinking:  dreamers, sleepers and wise men.

“Arise, Your Light is Come” (VU #79)

arise-and-shine-2“Arise, your light is come!
The Spirit’s call obey;
Show forth the glory of your God, which shines on you today.

Arise, your light is come!
Fling wide the prison door;
Proclaim the captive’s liberty, good tidings to the poor.

Arise, your light is come!
All you in sorrow born,
Bind up the broken-hearted ones and comfort those who mourn.

Arise, your light is come!
The mountains burst in song!
Rise up like eagles on the wing; God’s power will make us strong.”

This hymn was first published by the Ecumenical Women’s Center of Chicago in the 1974 collection of hymn adaptations, Because we are One People.  The words were written by Ruth Duck in 1974.  The tune, FESTIVAL SONG was first published in 1872 in a hymn book for the Episcopal Church of the USA called Hymnal with Tunes Old and New.   The lyrics are inspired by words found in the book of Isaiah.

Hear the hymn played on pipe organ at:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AYoUpNC4FAE

Hear an acoustic guitar version of the tune at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8W9UgtefhGo

“You Shall be the Path” (Cath 477)

Our benediction response is one verse of the hymn “God of Day and God of Darkness,” which was written by Marty Haugen in 1985.  We will be using the tune for the hymn, “All Who Hunger.”

“You shall be the path that guides us,
You the light that in us burns;
Shining deep within all people,
Yours the love that we must learn,
For our hearts shall wander restless
Till they safe to you return;
Finding you in one another,
We shall all your face discern.”


Categories: Notes on the Notes