Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Song of the Week: We Three Kings

In the New Testament, the Gospel of Matthew does not say how many Magi/Wise Men/Kings visited Jesus Christ after his birth. The gifts presented in Matthew's account are gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The Magi are anonymous in Matthew's account, but they became known as Gaspar (or Caspar), Melchior and Balthazar. Sometimes the Magi are depicted as coming from the Middle-East and riding on dromedary camels. Sometimes artists envision them as coming from the Far East, where they ride bactrian camels.

The felt Nativity set from Kyrgyzstan (pictured below, with additional visitors) has an interesting provenance. The person who originally bought these Nativity sets from local artisans noted that there weren't any Wise Men in the collection. The artisans didn't know about the Wise Men, so the person explained that they were traditionally three visitors from the East who brought gifts for the baby Jesus. The artisans made three Kings with turbans, and placed blankets in their hands as gifts to keep the baby Jesus warm.

Photo taken 2 years ago. The felt angel is my addition.

"We Three Kings" is a Christmas carol written by Reverend John Henry Hopkins, Jr. It appeared in Carols, Hymns, and Song in 1863. The song is in 3/4 time, with five verses, three of which lay out the purpose of the gifts. There is one rousing chorus, which may be familiar to you even if you're a bit vague on the individual verses:

O star of wonder, star of night,
Star with royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us to thy perfect Light.

Some of you may be familiar with the parody:

We Three Kings of Orient are,
Tried to smoke a rubber cigar,
It was loaded, it exploded--
We two Kings of Orient are...

My favorite rendition of the parody was on A Prairie Home Companion. You can find the complete parody lyrics here and listen to it here (in Segment One, called "Wise"). You'll need Real Audio player.

I've got guitar chords for you! I've usually seen it written in E minor. If you'd like to play it in E minor, you can find the chords here. I've got chords for you in A minor. Yes, there is that pesky F, but the good news is that it sounds just fine in F7 major, and is good for the quick chord changes.

Click on the image in order to enlarge it.


Lone Star Ma said...

We do love the Magi, who play a large part in our family Christmas traditions. Also, in South Texas, El Dia de Los Reyes Magos is celebrated at Epiphany. I also enjoy the story of the fourth wise man, which we read earlier this Christmas season (and I remember a Martin Sheen movie of the story when I was a kid) and last night we read one of my very favorite Christmas stories - Three Wise Women by Mary Hoffman.

Yorkshire Pudding said...

The Bible is filled with stories made up long years after the days when those events allegedly occurred. Were there three kings? Was there a star shining in the east? Was there even a baby Jesus? In terms of evidence, it would be much more sensible to believe in Bigfoot, Robin Hood or The Loch Ness Monster.

Saints and Spinners said...

LSM: I'll look for Three Wise Women. What was the story about the fourth wise man called? My daughter has a story about Baltazar as a little boy that she's told a couple of times. I've asked her if I could film her telling it sometime. That would (of course) change the nature of the telling, but I didn't want to interrupt her in the middle of her storytelling in order to get out the camera.

YP: I remember your eyewitness account of seeing the Loch Ness Monster-- whatever the LNM may actually be. If you weren't having a joke with us, then your account is good enough for me. I struggle with the issues of evidence and chafe at the idea of someone wanting me to believe something that goes against my common sense. I'm not a fundamentalist, and I do believe that the stories reveal windows into higher truths. This isn't the forum for my faith struggles, so I'll stop there!

Lone Star Ma said...

I have seen the story called The Fourth Wise Man and also called The Other Wise Man. I have two longish picture book versions, one called each, now, but am not sure that either is totally the same as the paperback chapter book-type version my family had when I was a child. I would love to see Lucia's story.