Friday, January 05, 2007
Epiphany - the Feast of the Three Kings
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 light,
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, voices raising,
Worshipping God on high.
Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume
Breathes 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;
Sounds through the earth and skies.
John H. Hopkins Jr. 1857
Hopkins wrote this carol for a Christmas pageant at the General Theological Seminary in New York City
January 6 is celebrated as Epiphany. It goes by other names in various church traditions. In Hispanic and Latin culture, as well as some places in Europe, it is known as Three Kings’ Day
Epiphany is the climax of the Christmas Season and the Twelve Days of Christmas, which are usually counted from December 25th until January 5th. In most traditions, the day before Epiphany is the Twelfth Day of Christmas, the evening of which is called Twelfth Night.
In traditional Christian churches Christmas, as well as Easter, is celebrated as a period of time, a season of the church year, rather than just a day. The Season of Christmas begins with the First Sunday of Advent, marked by expectation and anticipation, and concludes with Epiphany, which looks ahead to the mission of the church to the world in light of the Nativity.
The term epiphany means "to show" or "to make known" or even "to reveal." In Western churches, it remembers the coming of the wise men bringing gifts to visit the Christ child, who by so doing "reveal" Jesus to the world as Lord and King.
Epiphany has theological significance as a teaching tool in the church. The Wise Men or Magi who brought gifts to the infant Jesus were the first Gentiles to acknowledge Jesus as "King" and so were the first to "show" or "reveal" Jesus to a wider world as the incarnate Christ. This act of worship by the Magi, which corresponded to Simeon’s blessing that this child Jesus would be "a light for revelation to the Gentiles" (Luke 2:32), was one of the first indications that Jesus came for all people, of all nations, of all races, and that the work of God in the world would not be limited to only a few.
When the “wise men from the East” visited little Jesus, they brought three gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Not exactly your average baby shower gifts, are they? (Of course, Jesus was not your average baby!) But seriously, what were those wise men thinking?
Gold, the most precious substance of the ancient world, was a gift fit for a King. No doubt it also came in handy when Joseph, Mary and Jesus made their midnight flight to Egypt to avoid Herod’s assassins. (Matthew 2:13)
Frankincense is harvested in much the same way as maple syrup; it’s the hardened sap of a tree.
If you break apart the word “frankincense” you’ll see that the last part is “incense”. That’s exactly what frankincense was (and still is) used for. God commanded the Israelites to burn incense before His altar every day; the gift of frankincense acknowledged Jesus as God.
Then there’s myrrh. You probably used myrrh today yourself – it’s found in many mouthwashes, toothpastes, and makeup! Ancient Egyptians used it in embalming. It’s a poignant but appropriate gift for the Child who would one day die for us all.
On our church calendar Epiphany will be on Sunday, January 7th this year.
‘On Ya’ - ma