We three kings of Orient are;The wise men, however many of them there actually were, are journeying to Bethlehem to present their gifts to the newborn Jesus. The exact location the "Orient" is referring to isn't clear--opinions include Yemen, Arabia, Persia, India, and Babylon--but what is clear is that they had to travel a great distance to greet the Savior, long enough that the child Jesus was considerably out of babyhood by the time they arrived. The magi saw the star and followed it, trusting that the Savior of the world was at the end of their road.
Bearing gifts we traverse afar,
Field and fountain, moor and mountain,
Following yonder star.
O star of wonder, star of night,
Star with royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us to thy perfect light.
The Star of Bethlehem, whatever it was, is no longer visible, but there are still signs that point us to our Lord, if we care to look for them. We can look for good works, we can look for peace, and we can look for love. The star, in that sense, is still high above the earth, westward leading, still proceeding. If we chose to follow it, it will still lead us to its perfect Light.
But the first verse and refrain are far from all of the song. Each of the magi has his own verse to sing about the gift he is bringing to the child. Gold and frankincense are to honor the King and Ruler of the earth, but the verse about myrrh talks about something we haven't heard in any of the songs and hymns I've written about so far. Listen:
Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfumeHere we aren't singing about His birth, as we do in most of these songs, nor are we singing about His second coming, as we did in "Joy to the World" and "In the Bleak Midwinter," but instead, we are singing about his death. The third wise man singing about his Lord being "sealed in the stone cold tomb" to me suggests that he was not completely ignorant about why He had come to earth. He came not to rule and reign, as He would the second time He came, but to atone and redeem each of us from sin and death.
Breathes a life of gathering gloom;
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying,
Sealed in the stone cold tomb.
The final verse seems to make this clear:
Glorious now behold Him arise;This is a song that would not be out of place for Easter. We sing of His death, but we also sing of the hope His atonement and resurrection bring us. I've often heard it said that if there were no Easter, there would be no reason for Christmas, and it's certainly true. At Christmas, we commemorate the birth of our Lord, but the occasion is meaningful only because of the great work He performed for us at Gethsemane.
King and God and sacrifice;
Rings through the earth and skies
The wise men knew, or at least had a sense of the magnitude of the moment, and so they traveled across deserts, mountains, plains, and sea. We can look to Him too. The star is still pointing to Him, westward leading, still proceeding, guiding us to its perfect Light.
Previously in this series
Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella
In the Bleak Midwinter
Little Drummer Boy