WE THREE KINGS OF ORIENT ARE
Words and Music by John H. Hopkins, 1820–1891
And when they were come into the house, they [the wise men] saw the young child with Mary His mother, and fell down, and worshiped Him; and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto Him gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (Matthew 2:11)
Each of the participants involved with Christ’s birth—Mary and Joseph, the inn keeper, the angels, shepherds, and wise men—has much to teach us.
Although there is no scriptural basis for stating dogmatically that there were three wise men, the fact that three distinct gifts are mentioned has given rise to this traditional idea. Master artists throughout the centuries have depicted three wise men on camels as one of their favorite nativity themes.
The number of wise men is not important, but the fact that they persisted in following the light that was given them until they found the object of their search, that they responded in worship, and that they returned home to share their experience with others—all has much to tell us. Also, the gifts presented to the Christ-child were both significant and appropriate: gold, symbolic of His kingly reign; frankincense, symbolic of His priestly ministry; myrrh, symbolic of our redemption through His death. How important it is that our gifts of love and devotion be offered to Christ after we have first found Him and then have bowed in true adoration before Him.
The author and composer of this well-known Christmas hymn was an Episcopalian minister from Pennsylvania. John Hopkins has been credited with contributing much to the development of music in his denomination during the 19th century, writing a number of fine hymns and hymn tunes. One of his publications, Carols, Hymns and Songs, enjoyed four editions.
We three kings of Orient are, bearing gifts we traverse afar, field and fountain, moor and mountain, following yonder star.
Born a King on Bethlehem’s plain, gold I bring to crown Him again, King forever, ceasing never over us all to reign.
Frankincense to offer have I; incense owns a Deity nigh; prayer and praising, all men raising, worship Him, God on high.
Myrrh is mine; its bitter perfume breathes a life of gathering gloom: Sorr’wing, sighing, bleeding, dying, sealed in the stone-cold tomb.
Glorious now behold Him arise, King and God and Sacrifice; alleluia, alleluia! Earth to heav’n replies.
For Today: Matthew 2:1–11
Follow the light of God’s Word and the leading of His Holy Spirit to worship Christ and to share His love. Carry this tuneful message—
Osbeck, K. W.
- When Jesus was then was born in Bethlehem in Judea, in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came Wise men from the East to Jerusalem, Saying, Where is the King of the Jews that is born? for we have seen his star in the East, and are come to worship him. When king Herod heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And gathering together all the chief Priests and Scribes of the people, he asked of them, where Christ should be born. And they said unto him, At Bethlehem in the land of Judah, art not the least among the Princes of Judah: for out of thee shall come the governor that shall feed my people Israel. Then Herod privily called the Wise men, and diligently inquired of them the time of the star that appeared, And sent them to Bethlehem, saying, Go, and search diligently for the babe: and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come also, and worship him. So when they had heard the king, they departed: and lo, the star which they had seen in the East, went before them, till it came and stood over the place where the babe was. And when they saw the star, they rejoiced with an exceeding great joy. And went into the house, and found the babe with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him, and opened their treasures, and presented unto him gifts, even gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. Matthew 2:1–11