“We Three Kings”, original title “Three Kings of Orient”, also known as “We Three Kings of Orient Are” or “The Quest of the Magi”, is a Christmas carol that was written by John Henry Hopkins Jr. in 1857. At the time of composing the carol, Hopkins served as the rector of Christ Episcopal Church in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, and he wrote the carol for a Christmas pageant in New York City. It was the first widely popular Christmas carol written in America. You can hear it here
We Three Kings of Orient are, Bearing gifts we traverse afar, Field and fountain, Moor and mountain, Following yonder Star.
Star of Wonder, Star of Night, Star with Royal Beauty bright, Westward leading, Still proceeding, Guide us to Thy perfect Light.
Gaspard: 2. Born a King on Bethlehem plain, Gold I bring to crown Him again, King for ever, Ceasing never Over us all to reign.
Melchior: 3. Frankincense to offer have I, Incense owns a Deity nigh: Prayer and praising All men raising, Worship Him God on High.
Balthazar: 4. Myrrh is mine; its bitter perfume Breathes a life of gathering gloom;— Sorrowing, sighing, Bleeding, dying, Sealed in the stone-cold tomb.
5. Glorious now behold Him arise, King, and God, and Sacrifice; Heav’n sings Hallelujah: Hallelujah the earth replies.
Psalm 72: 1 – 16
Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son. May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice. May the mountains yield prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness. May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.
May he live while the sun endures, and as long as the moon, throughout all generations. May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth. In his days may righteousness flourish and peace abound, until the moon is no more.
May he have dominion from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth. May his foes bow down before him, and his enemies lick the dust. May the kings of Tarshish and of the isles render him tribute, may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts. May all kings fall down before him, all nations give him service.
For he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy. From oppression and violence he redeems their life; and precious is their blood in his sight.
I chose to write about We Three Kings after a Good Friday service that used the Myrrh verse as a main focus. We started with the Hosannas of Palm Sunday, celebrating Jesus the king. We remembered Jesus’ authority as he overthrew the money changers’ tables in the Temple, and his role as the servant king as he washed the disciples’ feet. Instead of the gold crown of kingship he received a crown of thorns.
Frankincense speaks of sacrifice. We remembered Jesus giving himself in bread and wine. ‘This is my body. This is my blood. Do this and remember me’. We heard the silver coins flung across the floor to mark his betrayal. We each held a sharp nail, mindful of Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice of himself on the Cross.
We had a foretaste of the myrrh in Jesus’ anointing at Bethany, smelling a spray of sweet perfume. Jesus himself said that Mary had anointed him for his burial. We remembered how his body was taken down from the cross and placed in the cave of the tomb and the stone rolled across.
On Good Friday, this seems like the end. But the story continues. The women go to the tomb with the perfumes and spices that will not be needed after all. The carol speaks of the resurrection: glorious now behold Him arise, king and God and sacrifice. The faithful followers meet him again and are commissioned to go into all the world and preach the gospel, on and on to our own times and beyond.
The Nowells and Glorias of Christmas turn to the Alleluias of Easter! All through the year, we celebrate Jesus now crowned in glory but present in our lives.
Your name we bless, O risen Lord And sing today with one accord The life laid down, the Life restored Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Amen (Rejoice and Sing 238 C.A.Alington)