Friday, January 6, 2012

The Feast of the Epiphany

January 6 is the "official" date for the Feast of the Epiphany, though your church may celebrate it on Sunday. In some parts of the world, it is better known as Three Kings Day, but by any name it marks the visit to the infant Jesus by people of distant countries (whether they were indeed kings, or magi, or whatever), as opposed to the nearby shepherds. It signifies the eventual importance of this baby who was to be known around the world, not just in Bethlehem or Galilee.

This hymn was written by William Chatterton Dix, whose work we have seen before, and appeared in his first collection, Hymns of Love and Joy (1861). Reportedly he wrote it on the feast day, January 6, 1856.

As with gladness those 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 be led to thee.

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 willing feet
Ever seek the mercy seat.

As they offered gifts most rare
At that manger rude and bare;
So may we with holy joy,
Pure and free from sin's alloy,
All our costliest treasures bring,
Christ! to thee, 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 thy glory hide.

In that heavenly country bright,
Need they no created light;
Thou its light, its joy, its crown,
Thou its sun which goes not down;
There for ever may we sing
Alleluias echoing.

William Chatterton Dix, 1856; alt.
Tune: DIX (
Conrad Kocher, 1838; adapt. William H. Monk, 1861

This well-known tune was altered slightly from its German original form by William Henry Monk, editor of Hymns Ancient and Modern (1861), where it was first matched to this text. It was probably also Monk who named the tune for this text's author.

P.S. You may have thought that after three years (beginnning a fourth later this month) that we have run out of familiar hymns, but as you can see we're not done yet.

P.S. You may have thought that after three years (beginnning a fourth later this month) that we have run out of familiar hymns, but as you can see we're not done yet.


AuntE said...

Thank you for this CWS. This hymn was one my Dad often chose to sing at this time of year. It doesn't seem to be well known in the circles I'm now in... and we aren't really marking Epiphany this year at St. Andrew's. Jan. 8 marks our last Sunday in our current location so our focus is on closing one chapter and beginning another.

Leland Bryant Ross said...

I learned DIX very early as the tune of "For the Beauty of the Earth", and it's still, years after I learned the truth, hard for me to sing other words to it. Incidentally, what text(s) was/were set to it in German before Monk got ahold of it?

Very glad to see these two new posts, I was really getting worried.

BTW, Richard Hurst just sent round a hymn of his (not particlarly for Epiphany, but in a way it is) about God as a Mother Bear. You can see it here.

C.W.S. said...

Epiphany is somewhat about the spreading of the gospel message around the world, and you'll continue to do that in your new church home. But I'm sure it is an emotional time for many.

I don't know much about German originals, sad to say. And while I think there may be a good hymn in the scriptural passage anout the mother bear, I'm not sure this one is it.