Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Feast of the Epiphany

Today's Feast of the Epiphany marks the visit of the "three kings" to the baby Jesus and his parents, told in Matthew 2:1-12, though as you can see they aren't called kings there, nor are there said to be three of them.

Another important part of the story is the star that led them on their journey, which always appears in the hymns for this day. Its appearance was foretold in Numbers 24:17, which reads in part: There shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, which many will recognize from a popular Epiphany anthem by Felix Mendelssohn.

Today's hymn was written in Latin (Quae stella sole pulchrior) by Charles Coffin and appeared in the Roman Catholic Paris Breviary (1736). It was translated by John Chandler a century later though it has been much altered since.

What star is this, with beams so bright,
More beauteous than the noonday light?
It shines to herald forth the Word.
Of whom the nations long have heard.

True spake the prophet from afar
Who told the rise of this bright star:
And eastern sages with amaze
Upon the wondrous token gaze.

The guiding star above is bright:
Within them shines a clearer light,
And leads them on with power benign
To seek the Giver of the sign.

Their love can brook no dull delay,
Though toil and danger block the way;
Home, kindred, native land, and all
They leave at their Creator's call.

To God our Maker, heav'nly Light,
To Christ, revealed to earthly sight,
And to the Holy Spirit, raise
Our equal and unceasing praise.

Charles Coffin, 1736
tr. John Chandler, 1837; alt.
Michael Praetorius, 1609
harm. George Woodward, 1901

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