Liturgy Lessons: January 7, 2017 (Epiphany Sunday)
Call to Worship: Isaiah 60:1-6
Hymn of Adoration: Jesus Shall Reign (#441)
Prayer of Invocation
Call to Worship (cont.): Matthew 2:1-2, 9-11
Hymn of Invocation: As with Gladness Men of Old (#226)
Prayer of Confession
Assurance of Pardon: Psalm 85:1-3, 10-13
Hymns of Assurance: Joy Has Dawned (Getty/Townend)
Reading of the Word: Luke 2:
Sermon: Rev. Casey Bedell
Tithes and Offerings
Supper: We Come, O Christ, to You (#181); Let Thy Blood in Mercy Poured (#429); Be Thou My Vision (#642)
Closing Hymn: There is a Higher Throne
The word Epiphany means “to appear.” It is derived from the Greek, meaning manifestation or appearance. The classical use of the word in ancient Greece was to signify the dawn, as well as to announce either an enemy in war or the manifestation of a deity (theophany). The ancient double-edged purpose of this word has perfect application to one of our hymns, “Joy Has Dawned” (see below).
In the modern western world, Epiphany has become synonymous with Three Kings Day, to commemorate the arrival of the Magi to the manger. This is understood more broadly to represent the appearance of Christ to the gentiles, and the spreading of the light of the gospel to all corners of the world. In some traditions the kings represent the three regions of the ancient world: India, Arabia, and Persia. Although the Bible never really mentions the exact number of Magi, most assume there were a trio based on the fact that they brought three gifts. Not sure what church council came up with that slapdash reasoning, but thanks to innumerable paintings, stories, songs, and endless pageants, the image of three kings are etched firmly in our imagination. Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasazar are forever riding their camels through the desert underneath a full moon on their way to Bethlehem.
For those of you who want to refresh or awaken your imagination to a different angle on these ancient astrologers, I suggest reading T.S. Eliot’s Journey of the Magi. Better yet, listen to the poet himself read it. Both text and recording of that can be found here.
The purpose of Eliot’s poem, and my intro here is not historical curiosity or academic inquiry into the Magi themselves. It is to invite us into their journey, to come alongside them to witness the birth of Christ. According to Eliot, this birth also signifies a death, two deaths in fact. The savior came to die, and bids us come and die as well.
For he who seeks to save his life will lose it, but he who loses his life for Christ’s sake will find it. If the Lord of all the universe leapt into time and space, if the wisest men of the ancient world rode across barren landscape to greet him, then we, too, should come, behold, and adore. Brothers and sisters, this Sunday, as we gather at his cradle, kneel before his cross, and bow down around his throne, all of our glorious future flashes before our eyes as we hear again the loud voice from Revelation declaring, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
As with Gladness Men of Old
Text: William Chatterton Dix, 1858
Tune: DIX, Conrad Kocher, 1838
A few weeks ago we were introduced to William Dix, author of “What Child is This?” A businessman by trade, but a poet at heart, Dix uses the five verses of this hymn to connect the journey of the Wise Men to our own Christian pilgrimage. There is a regular pattern in these stanzas: “as they…so may we.” As they followed the star, and sought out the Christ child, so may we be led by His spirit and kneel in humility before him. As they offered gifts most rare, so may we bring our own costliest treasures. As they journeyed long and far, so may we endure the “narrow way” that will bring us to paradise, where Christ will be our Light and we will perfectly praise with “Alleluias to our King.”
I love how the story of the Wise Men is personalized here. There is a real sense of longing and expectation that is expressed, and an understanding that the arrival is not some place, but Christ himself. Dix wrote this while recovering from illness, and perhaps this informed his writing of prayerful phrases like “so, most gracious God, may we evermore be led to Thee.” This, of course, is the truest purpose of all music and art, indeed any beautiful thing. It is not window dressing for mere adornment or spectacle, but an actual window through which we can glimpse the beauty of Christ.
This hymn is always sung to the tune DIX. Conrad Kocher (meaning “cooker” or “chef”), a German composer and church musician, originally wrote a longer version of this tune for a German chorale in 1838. William H. Monk, editor of the 1861 edition of Hymns Ancient & Modern, altered the original chef’s recipe a bit by omitting one phrase and changing a few notes to fit “As with Gladness” for the 1861 edition. It is interesting to note that William Chatterton Dix did not like the choice of this tune. However, it pairs well with his hymn, and it has become standard fare to serve up at Epiphany. Now this tune bears his name.
vs. 1-3 = Matt. 2:1-12
vs. 4-5 = Rev. 21:23, Rev. 22:5
Joy Has Dawned
Words and Music by Stuart Townend and Keith Getty, 2004
When the Gettys recorded this song on their Christmas album, they paired it with “Angels We Have Heard on High.” However, I think it stands on its own quite well, firmly balanced in its poetic and musical content—those two legs that any good song needs. If they are uneven, then it leads to more wobbling and less warbling. In fact, after reading the lyrics to this hymn, I dare say that it makes the verses of “Angels We Have Heard on High” seem like fluff. This hymn takes on the traditional narrative of most Christmas hymns, ensuring mention of all the usual suspects in the story. But beyond the pageantry is a real sense of purpose in the writing. The prophets, Mary, angels, shepherds, and Wise Men all are mentioned here in the first three verses. However, they clearly are minor characters in the story of Christ and his coming. The first and last verses give us very biblical bookends that frame the hymn in a vibrant sense of adoration and gratitude for the gift of God’s son:
Joy has dawned upon the world, promised from creation—
God’s salvation now unfurled, hope for ev’ry nation.
Not with fanfares from above, not with scenes of glory,
But a humble gift of love—Jesus born of Mary.
Son of Adam, Son of heaven, given as a ransom;
Reconciling God and man, Christ, our mighty champion!
What a Savior! What a Friend! What a glorious myst’ry!
Once a babe in Bethlehem, now the Lord of hist’ry.”
In the middle two verses we are drawn to the manger to wonder at the mystery of the incarnation and to recall in heart and mind that love is begotten, born, and broken for our sake. It is reason for great rejoicing. Augustine said that “he who loves, sings.” I would like to alter that and say “he who is saved, sings.”
After declaring that he had kept his Father’s commandments and remained in His love, Christ said that he desired the same for us, that “my joy may be in you, and your joy may be full.” When the night was darkest, the Son rose. Joy has dawned upon the world. Rejoice and Sing!