The music for Sunday focuses on the story of the three Wise Men, the Sages from afar, the Magi, or, in the words of one clergyperson, the Wise Guys. Even though the Feast of the Epiphany is actually celebrated on Tuesday, January 6th (come to our noon Eucharist in the Chapel that day), the lectionary gives us the option to read their story this Sunday. No matter how fanciful their tale may seem, they are an important piece of Christ’s story, as they bring his birth to an international stage. The Magi give us a sense of wonder and pilgrimage as they travel, guided by a star, to Bethlehem where they find a poor family with a newborn child. Then, they present precious gifts that foreshadow Jesus’ life among us.
This week, we sing We three kings, What child is this, Angels from the realms of glory, and The first nowell. All of these hymns speak of the Magi and their journey. At Bethlehem, they experience an “aha” moment, an epiphany. The 3rd verse of our communion hymn speaks eloquently of the Magi:
Sages, leave your contemplations;
brighter visions beam afar:
seek the great Desire of nations;
ye have seen his natal star.
- From Piae Cantiones, 1582; translated by Jane M. Joseph (1894-1929)
Mary must certainly have been awed, excited, and yet overwhelmed by the amazing occurrences surrounding her son’s birth. Our offertory anthem speaks of Mary and Jesus quite beautifully. The following, drawn from the 2nd verse, speaks of Jesus’ relationship with his mother.
Sing of Jesus, son of Mary,
In the home at Nazareth,
Toil and labor cannot weary
Love enduring unto death.
Constant was the love he gave her,
Though he went forth from her side,
Forth to preach, and heal, and suffer,
Till on Calvary he died.
- Roland Ford Palmer (1891-1985)
Think about the many depictions of the Magi as we sing on Sunday. Certainly, many of those who encountered Jesus throughout his life must have experienced “aha” moments about a great many things, but what a bittersweet epiphany Christ’s true mission must have been for his mother. We all are called to experience epiphanies in different ways as God is revealed in creation, the church, and in our neighbors. As your Organist and Choir Master, I hope this new year will bring about epiphanies for us through our music. Perhaps one more quote is worth writing. Although we won’t sing In the bleak midwinter on Sunday, we did sing it during communion on Christmas eve. Here is the 4th verse. Perhaps this is good to keep in mind as we contemplate the Epiphany of the Lord.
What can I give him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd,
I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man,
I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give him
Give my heart.
- Christina Rossetti (1830-1894)
Christopher W. Powell
Organist and Choir Master
Christ Church Cathedral