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We Three Kings

Reverend John Henry Hopkins, Jr. was an Episcopal Bishop, author, book illustrator, stained glass window designer, and editor of the New York Church Journal. He wrote We Three Kings in 1857 as a special Christmas present for his nieces and nephews at an elaborate Christmas pageant he directed at the General Theological Seminary of New York City in Chelsea, where he was an instructor in church music. It was published in his Carols, Hymns and Songs in 1863, in the midst of the Civil War.

Also known as The Quest of the Magi or Three Kings of Orient, We Three Kings tells the story of men who traveled a long distance, guided by a star to see the child Jesus, the promised Messiah.

And like a new day dawning, light permeates the scripture readings on Epiphany.  The Old Testament reading directs us to “be radiant at what you see.” Matthew’s Gospel is the story We Three Kings is based on. But the image of the light of this star doesn’t end with Epiphany. Soon, we’ll hear Jesus call himself the light of the world, and tell his followers not to hide their light under a bushel basket.

And to bring this two thousand year old story into the present, (and to foreshadow the light we will sing about at the Easter Vigil) Sr. Karen Berry, a Joliet Franciscan, suggests singing Christ, Be Our Light today, which happens to fit the refrain of We Three Kings as if it had been written as its descant. Paired together with Rev. Hopkins’ carol, Bernadette Farrell’s song takes on a more powerful meaning as it expresses our calling, as the body of Christ, to be a star, a light for the world... 

O star of wonder, star of night, Star with royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding, Guide us to the perfect light.
Christ, be our light! Shine in our hearts. Shine through the darkness.
Christ, be our light! Shine in your church gathered today.