Sunday Serenade: Brightest and Best
As we head into the new year, with all its fresh starts and turnings of new leaves, here’s an old Epiphany hymn that I’ve always liked. This is the version I’m most familiar with. However, I like this one equally well, and it’s a little more upbeat.
In the liturgical church calendar, the season of Epiphany marks the visit of the magi, sometimes (wise men) to the Christ child after his birth. “And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, the offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.” (Matthew 2:9-11) Traditionally Epiphany was celebrated on January 6, twelve days after Christmas.
The words to the hymn are:
Brightest and best of the sons of the morning,
Dawn on our darkness and lend us thine aid;Star of the east, the horizon adorning,
Guide where our infant Redeemer is laid.
Cold on his cradle the dewdrops are shining,
Low lies his head with the beasts of the stall;
Angels adore him in slumber reclining,
Maker and Monarch and Savior of all.
Shall we then yield him in costly devotion,
Odors of Edom and off’rings divine,
Gems of the mountain and pearls of the ocean,
Myrrh from the forest and gold from the mine?
Vainly we offer each ample oblation,
Vainly with gifts would his favor secure;
Richer by far is the heart’s adoration,
Dearer to God are the prayers of the poor.
According to my hymnal, the music was written in 1811 by Reginald Heber, and the words were added by James P. Harding in 1892.
I wonder what happened to some of these great old hymns. So few people sing them or even know them anymore, yet they have such beautiful tunes and rich, meaningful words.