As with gladness men 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.
Set to the tune of “For the Beauty of the Earth,” a tune which the author could not stand, this pleasant carol tells the story of the Magi’s visit to the Christ-child. On some level, it should not be surprising that there are so many carols for the Epiphany story, since Epiphany was originally the bigger holiday for the Western Church (hence why there is so much gift giving at Christmas). The coming of the Light has always spoken to something deep within us.
As with many of the hymns surrounding the arrival of the Wise Men, the focus is once again on how we might offer the best that we have to this newborn King. And yes, we do want to give the very best that we have to God. However, we often overlook Jesus’ own teachings on how we should do that.
Throughout the scriptures God and Christ have told us the way we are to bring holy worship: through deeds of mercy and acts of love. As the famous Lenten passage from Isaiah says, “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?” (Isaiah 58:6-7). Jesus himself interpreted and expanded this concept in the parable of the Sheep and Goats in the gospel of Matthew: “as much as you have done this to the least of these, you have done it to me.”
It is much easier to focus on ways to bring gifts to God in heaven than it is to acknowledge the face of Christ in the flesh-and-blood humans in our midst. We want to pray and preach and sing and study – all of which are important. Yet, we will lose Christ’s point entirely if we do live into God’s ministry here and now. It is then, as Isaiah goes on to say, that our “light shall break forth like the dawn.” Then we will see the glory of the Light ablaze in our world.
So remember that we welcome our King, not by pious words, but through the welcome we give to all the “unwanteds” in our world. May this be our meditation as we join this hymn: As they offered gifts most rare at thy 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.