Hymn 113, We Three Kings
When Jesus was born in Bethlehem … there came wise men from the East to worship Him. Matthew 2:1 KJV
“We three kings of orient are, smoking on a rubber cigar…”
We all remember from our childhoods various renditions of this wonderful hymn, but did you know it was written TO children FOR children as a gift for the celebration of Epiphany? Ahh, yes—Epiphany, that long forgotten last day of the 12 days of Christmas generally not marked by Southern Baptists. Celebrated traditionally on January 6, it rivaled Christmas Day itself in many cultures as the day that the wise men found the Christ Child after they left Herod in Matthew 2. They were not only wise, but they were crafty in escaping Herod’s hordes after bearing their gifts to the baby Jesus and were never heard from again.
John Henry Hopkins, Jr., a lawyer who also graduated from seminary, never married or had children. But he wanted to give his nephews and nieces an Epiphany gift they would remember. In 1857 he penned this simple song to celebrate the wise men’s gifts and the three phrases of Christ’s mission—gold to symbolize kingship; frankincense to help in the worship of the Son of God; and finally, myrrh, an herb traditionally used in burial clothing to acknowledge the death of the Savior who died for us.
When you sing the song, you can feel the rhythm that compels you to rock with the gait of the camels as they plod across the cold desert sand. You can imagine the night air as the wise men look up at the “star of wonder, star of night. Star of royal beauty bright!” And yes, they had an epiphany! We should all recognize the epiphany that has been delivered to us in the person of Jesus, “born a King on Bethlehem’s plain.”