Across Christendom the celebration of the birth of Christ is coming to a close. Christians across the globe remember the visit of the Magi following the twelve days of Christmas. The Gospel writer Matthew brings to light the sign by which the Magi new of Christ’s birth, a star. He chronicles their journey to find the One who was born King of the Jews, culminating in their worship of the Christ Child. Matthew explains that the men worshiped the Christ by giving him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Just as many poems and hymns have been written to retell the story of the Nativity, so many poems have been written for the recollection of the Epiphany. One such descriptive text was written by Frances Chesterton (1875-1938), the wife of English philosopher and apologist G. K. Chesterton. While the first stanza of her poem captures the images that are traditionally associated with Epiphany, the second stanza explains the prophetic nature of the Magi’s gifts, as she paints with her words a vivid picture of the conquering King of Glory. The tiny babe of Bethlehem, Chesterton recognizes, is God in flesh—Savior, Lord, Ruler, and King. Chesterton’s text was set to music by the English composer, Herbert Howells (1892-1983) as a part of his Three Carol-Anthems in 1918. His characteristic use of modal harmony permeates the homophonic texture. In the second stanza, Howells use of speech-like rhythm, vocal range, and extreme dynamic contrast serves to depict the triumph of the King of the Jews, who lay before the Magi as a tiny baby boy.
As we enter into 2013 may we faithfully follow the Christ who came as a humble babe in a manger, who lived to die upon the cross, and who is coming again as Eternal King.
Here is the Little Door
Here is the little door, lift up the latch, oh lift!
We need not wander more but enter with our gift;
Our gift of finest gold,
Gold that was never bought nor sold;
Myrrh to be strewn about His bed;
Incense in clouds about His head;
All for this Child that stirs not in His sleep,
But holy slumber holds with ass and sheep.
Bend low about His bed, for He has a gift;
See how His eyes awake, lift up your hands, oh lift!
For gold, He gives a keen-edged sword,
(Defend with it Thy little Lord!)
For incense, smoke of battle red;
Myrrh for the honored happy dead;
Gifts for His children, terrible and sweet,
Touched by such tiny hands and oh such tiny feet.