We Three Kings — Carols of Epiphany

Scripture Focus: Psalm 10.16
The Lord is King forever and ever;
    the nations will perish from his land.

Matthew 2.1-2, 11
1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

From John: We are thrilled to have a “bonus” carol from Jon Polk today, on Epiphany, sometimes called, “Three Kings Day” or the twelfth day of Christmas. Epiphany is the true conclusion of the season of Christmas, called Christmastide, and the true purpose of the incarnation is revealed to us in it. Christ is a gift to all people but today, he receives gifts fit for worship.

Reflection: We Three Kings — Carols of Epiphany
By Jon Polk

Have you ever been to a birthday party where guests received gifts but not the one having the birthday?

January 6 on the Christian calendar is known as Epiphany, the celebration of the gifts and journey of the Magi.

“We Three Kings” was the first widely popular carol written in America. Composed in 1857 by Episcopal minister and church music instructor at General Theological Seminary in New York, John Henry Hopkins, Jr., the song was created for a Nativity pageant at the seminary. 

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

For dramatic purposes, Hopkins assigned a gift and a verse to three Magi, traditionally named Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar. Note that Matthew’s account mentions three gifts, not three men. In some Christian traditions, they are twelve in number.

Furthermore, there is no indication in Matthew that they were kings. The word magi refers to astrologers, thus their interest in following a star. Not royalty, but most certainly foreigners, these Magi were likely familiar with Hebrew prophecies.

Despite these slight missteps the carol makes, Hopkins does a fine job describing the symbolism of the gifts.

Born a King on Bethlehem’s plain,
gold I bring to crown him again

Gold is the most frequently mentioned valuable metal in scripture, used as currency but also for making jewelry, ornaments, and utensils for royalty. This gift is fit for a king.

Frankincense to offer have I
Incense owns a Deity nigh

Frankincense, derived from Boswellia tree resin, produces a sweet odor when burned and was part of the incense allowed on the altar. This gift is fit for worship.

Myrrh is mine; its bitter perfume
Breathes a life of gathering gloom

Myrrh, sap from a small tree in Arabia, was used as a perfume and to stifle the smell of a dead body before burial. This gift is fit for death.

As astrologers, not royalty, the gifts came at a significant financial cost to the Magi. Traveling from as far away as Persia, a two-year journey, required time and energy. These gifts were sacrificial, intended for worship.

However, what do we do at Christmas time? We give gifts to everyone but the guest of honor himself.

What if this year you begin a new tradition? What if your new year “resolutions” were not simply ways to better yourself or be more successful, but instead were gifts from you to Jesus?

What present would you give Jesus? More time in prayer or Bible study? Kicking a habit that is holding back your spiritual growth? Focusing attention less on yourself and more on those around you?

If you give Jesus a gift this year, what will it be? Following the example of the Magi, let it be sacrificial and intended for worship.

Listen: We Three Kings by Tenth Avenue North and Britt Nicole
Read: Lyrics from Hymnary.org

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Sing to the Lord and bless his Name; proclaim the good news of his salvation from day to day.
Declare his glory among the nations and his wonders among all peoples.
For great is the Lord and greatly to be praised; his is more to be feared than all gods. — Psalm 96.2-4

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Job 6 (Listen – 2:56) 
Psalm 10 (Listen – 2:13)

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Read more about Unwrapping Christ’s Gifts :: Epiphany
May we wear Christ’s gifts prominently, like new…clothing. Through the wearing, may we allow them to transform us into the manifestation of the giver.

O Come All Ye Faithful — Carols of Advent Love

Scripture Focus: Revelation 1:4b-6
4b Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, 6 and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.

John 17:24-26
24 “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

25 “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. 26 I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”

Reflection: O Come All Ye Faithful — Carols of Advent Love
By Jon Polk

Adore, verb, /əˈdɔːr/: to love someone very much, especially in a way that shows a lot of admiration or respect. (Cambridge Dictionary)

“O Come All Ye Faithful,” is a timeless Christmas carol, beckoning the faithful who have sung it across the ages to join together with the shepherds and others who gathered in Bethlehem to celebrate the birth of the king!

O come, all ye faithful,
Joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem;
Come and behold him, born the king of angels.

The original Latin text of the song is credited to John Frances Wade and consisted of the four verses commonly sung today. Wade was an English exile living in France, having fled due to discrimination against Roman Catholics in the mid-1700s.

Wade taught music at an English college and also hand copied chant and hymn manuscripts for private use by wealthy families. In the 1740s, he produced the song, “Adeste Fideles,” having either written the text himself or discovered words written by 13th-century Cistercian monks. 

Three additional verses were later added by French Catholic priest Jean-François-Étienne Borderies, which give depth to the song. One verse describes the visit of the shepherds, one recounts the journey of the magi, and one centers all of us in the manger along with the holy child.

Child, for us sinners
Poor and in the manger,
Fain we embrace thee, with love and awe;
Who would not love thee, loving us so dearly?

Note that there is no comma after “sinners.” Punctuation matters. Instead of the “child poor and in the manger,” the structure suggests it is “us sinners poor and in the manger.” In our poor and wretched state, we are included in this intimate moment to embrace Jesus with love and admiration.

And who is this infant Jesus and why should we display such unbridled affection for him?

God of God,
Light of Light,
Lo, he abhors not the Virgin’s womb;
Very God, begotten, not created.

The song effortlessly reaches back through church history to 325 AD, mirroring the words of the Nicene Creed, “We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father. Through him all things were made.”

We are reminded that this baby is God in flesh and, knowing the rest of his story, who would not want to love him after he has loved us so dearly? 

So come, all ye faithful sinners poor and in the manger, come and love Jesus so very much, especially in ways that show your tremendous admiration and respect for him. Come. Come and love.

Listen: O Come All Ye Faithful by Take 6
Listen: Adeste Fidelis by Andrea Bocelli
Read: Lyrics from Hymnary.org


Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Know this: the Lord himself is God; he himself has made us, and we are his; we are his people and the sheep of his pasture. — Psalm 100.2

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Chronicles 10 (Listen – 3:01)
Revelation 1 (Listen – 3:43)

This Weekend’s Readings
2 Chronicles 11-12 (Listen – 6:00) Revelation 2 (Listen – 4:59)
2 Chronicles 13 (Listen – 3:56) Revelation 3 (Listen – 3:53)

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Joy to the World — Carols of Advent Love

Scripture Focus: Jude 1b, 20-21
1b To those who have been called, who are loved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ.

20 But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.

Psalm 98:4-6
4 Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth,
    burst into jubilant song with music;
5 make music to the Lord with the harp,
    with the harp and the sound of singing,
6 with trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn—
    shout for joy before the Lord, the King.

Reflection: Joy to the World — Carols of Advent Love
By Jon Polk

If you only know the name of one famous hymn writer, that name would probably be Isaac Watts, credited with around 750 hymns, and if you were asked to name only one of the most iconic Christmas carols, it would likely be “Joy to the World,” the most-published Christmas hymn in North America.

“Joy to the World” is not actually a Christmas song, since it wasn’t written to celebrate Jesus’ birth, but rather his second coming. In fact, the text is not drawn from the nativity stories at all but is based on Psalm 98.

Joy to the world! the Lord is come
Let Earth receive her King
Let every heart prepare him room,
And heaven and nature sing…

Watts sought to encourage new ways of incorporating Psalms in worship and set about paraphrasing the entire Psalter in accessible poetry. His intent was clear by the lengthy title of the final work, published in 1719, The Psalms of David: Imitated in the Language of the New Testament and Applied to the Christian State and Worship.

Watts’ paraphrase of the second half of Psalm 98 became the text for the carol we know today as “Joy to the World.” 

Describing his paraphrase, Watts wrote, “In these two hymns I have formed out of the 98th Psalm I have fully expressed what I esteem to be the first and chief sense of the Holy Scriptures.”

Why do we respond with joy at the great news that the Lord has come and will come again? What is the chief aim of all the scriptures? Psalm 98.3 answers, “He has remembered his love and his faithfulness to Israel; all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.”

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love…

The word translated as “love” in Psalm 98:3 is the famously untranslatable Hebrew word hesed, often rendered as love, steadfast love, or lovingkindness. We have no single English word that adequately describes hesed, yet it is a word frequently used to describe God’s own character.

In his book, Inexpressible: Hesed and the Mystery of God’s Lovingkindness, Michael Card defines hesed as “When the person from whom I have a right to expect nothing gives me everything.”

Heaven and nature sing! We repeat the sounding joy! Why? Because we are overwhelmed by the wonders of God’s love! The indescribable, unshakable, undeserved love of God. A love that gave us everything, even the life of God’s own Son, when we deserved nothing.

So let our hearts prepare room for him this Christmas, as we marvel at the knowledge that “we love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4.19)

Listen: Joy to the World by Keith & Kristyn Getty
Read: Lyrics from Hymnary.org

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Let integrity and uprightness preserve me, for my hope has been in you. — Psalm 25.20

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Chronicles 9 (Listen – 5:07)
Jude 1 (Listen – 4:12)

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Read more about Renamed by God — Hope of Advent
We have other names…we call ourselves…Failure. Foolish. Ugly. Fat. Unworthy. Unloveable. Hopeless…God has a new name for us.

Good King Wenceslas — Carols of Advent Love

Scripture Focus: 3 John 3-6
3 It gave me great joy when some believers came and testified about your faithfulness to the truth, telling how you continue to walk in it. 4 I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.

5 Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers and sisters, even though they are strangers to you. 6 They have told the church about your love. Please send them on their way in a manner that honors God.

Luke 6:38
Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

Reflection: Good King Wenceslas — Carols of Advent Love
By Jon Polk

In 921, the Duke of Bohemia (in modern Czech Republic) died when his son Wenceslas was only 13 years old, too young to rule. Wenceslas’ late grandfather converted to Christianity under the influence of Byzantine missionaries and his grandmother had seen to his education, so she was made regent in his stead.

At age 18, Wenceslas was made Duke of Bohemia and his reign was characterized by his Christian heritage. He became known for acts of charity and almsgiving, winning the admiration of his subjects.

Historian Cosmas of Prague wrote about Wenceslas in 1119:

His deeds I think you know better than I could tell you; rising every night from his noble bed, he went around to God’s churches and gave alms generously to widows, orphans, those in prison and afflicted by every difficulty, so much so that he was considered, not a prince, but the father of all the wretched.

Wenceslas’ legacy helped shape the medieval concept of the righteous king, whose power is based on great piety in addition to regal authority.

Written by English hymn writer John Mason Neale in 1853, the carol “Good King Wenceslas” recounts one incident of love and generosity by the good king.

Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the Feast of Stephen
When the snow lay round about
Deep and crisp and even
Brightly shone the moon that night
Though the frost was cruel
When a poor man came in sight
Gathering winter fuel

The king orders his servants to gather food, drink and firewood and summons his page to help him deliver the goods to the poor peasant. 

Page and monarch forth they went
Forth they went together
Through the rude wind’s wild lament
And the bitter weather

As the weather worsens, the page insists he can go no further; the king suggests that the page simply follow boldly in his footsteps. Upon doing so, the page discovers that he is warmed by the sod where snow had melted under his master’s footprints.

The Christmas season often prompts many people to engage in acts of charity and kindness. There are toy drives, meals served in soup kitchens and generous donations made to notable causes, all our expressions of God’s love.

Unfortunately, however, our generosity usually ends on December 26th.

While the carol recounts only one incident at Christmastime, Wenceslas was remembered for a life of generosity and love for those in need.

We follow a Righteous King who lived his whole life as a servant. He invites us to simply walk boldly in his footsteps, serving others not only for a few weeks during the Christmas season, but consistently throughout the year.

Therefore, Christian men, be sure
Wealth or rank possessing
Ye who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing

Listen: Good King Wenceslas by Downhere
Read: Lyrics from Hymnary.org

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. — Matthew 5.6

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Chronicles 8 (Listen – 3:02)
3  John 1 (Listen – 1:51)

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Read more about He Became a Servant — Love of Advent
Jesus is our perfect and complete picture of what God is like. He is still among us as one who serves and we are to be like him.

The First Noël — Carols of Advent Love

Scripture Focus: 2 John 4-6
4 It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded us. 5 And now, dear lady, I am not writing you a new command but one we have had from the beginning. I ask that we love one another. 6 And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.

John 3:16-17
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

From John: We will be blessed this entire week with Jon Polk’s Advent contributions related to music from this time of year. Jon has always been a key source through whom I learned about unique music and artists worth discovering. Jon is a music connoisseur and collector with a massive collection of music, both on his shelves and in his heart. This week, please enjoy his exploration of the carols of Advent.

Reflection: The First Noël — Carols of Advent Love
By Jon Polk

English lawyer and member of the Society of Antiquaries of London, William Sandys was concerned that the celebration of Christmas, especially the singing of Christmas songs, was waning in the first half of the 19th century. He set about collecting and preserving Christmas carols from both England and France, publishing two volumes totaling over 100 songs.

His first collection in 1833, Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern, also contained a lengthy 136-page introduction examining the history of Christmas celebrations. In this collection was found the first printed appearances of many classic English carols, including “The First Noël.”

Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel
Born is the King of Israel!

The origins of the song date back to medieval Europe, a time when dramatizations of biblical stories called Miracle Plays were popular (early origins of Passion Plays and Christmas Pageants). The lyrics plainly recount the nativity stories of the shepherds and Magi directly from scripture.

Sandys’ carol collections helped revitalize Christmas celebrations in England. At the time, carol singing was typically done by singers gathering at people’s homes and was generally not to be found in church worship. Soon many cathedrals began including carols in Christmas services.

In 1880, Bishop Benson in Cornwall developed the first “Nine Lessons and Carols” service. Benson was concerned that the celebration of Christmas had become characterized by excessive consumption of alcohol and he developed a service of Christmas music and Bible readings, hoping to attract partygoers out of the pubs and into church.

The Nine Lessons service gained popularity across England. Ultimately, its most famous incarnation began an annual tradition at King’s College, Cambridge in 1918. At that inaugural event, “The First Noël” was given pride of place as the final congregational hymn in the service.

The song, along with recounting the nativity story, is unashamedly evangelistic, proclaiming the love of God for humanity through Christ’s sacrifice.

Then let us all with one accord
Sing praises to our heavenly Lord
That hath made heaven and earth of naught
And with his blood mankind has bought

One could easily assert that in the modern day, the celebration of the true nature of Christmas has waned. The holiday has become characterized by excessive consumerism and commercialism. Christmas is widely celebrated in a mostly secular way, marked by Black Friday, holiday movies and time off from work and school for the annual family ski trip.

May the simple story found in “The First Noël,” describing the worship of the shepherds and the Magi, encourage us as Christians to re-examine even our own focus on Christmas, calling us back to the importance of proclaiming God’s love to those around us.

Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel
Born is the King of Israel!

Listen: The First Noel by Phil Wickham
Read: Lyrics from Hymnary.org

*If you’d like some ideas for how you and your family can recenter your celebration of Christmas, check out the resources from The Advent Conspiracy.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Look upon your covenant; the dark places of the earth are haunts of violence. — Psalm 74.19

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.
Today’s Readings
2 Chronicles 7 (Listen – 4:07)
1 John 5 (Listen – 1:50)

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Read more about Bring a Torch, Jeannette, Isabella — Carols of Advent Joy
…dear reader, to whom will you carry the light and joy of Christmas this year?