Did You Ever Wonder... about "We Three Kings"?
January brings about Epiphany, when we observe the coming of the Magi to greet the Christ Child. One particular hymn, "We Three Kings of Orient Are", which is found in our blue book With One Voice, is almost always sung around that time of year.
You may not know this, but this hymn actually has its root in Pennsylvania! It was written by John Henry Hopkins Jr.,an Episcopalian, while he was serving an Episcopal church in Williamsport. At that time, he was serving at Christ Episcopal in Williamsport, which still exists to this day. At the time of the writing of the hymn, Christ Episcopal was only 16 years old, but it has now existed for 177 years. As you can imagine, members of the congregation are quite proud of their former priest, and the hymn remains a strong connection point.
Rev. Hopkins actually wrote the hymn for a Christmas pageant in New York City, but it quickly gained popularity and now is used worldwide.
As for the content of the hymn's lyrics, Hopkins wrote the hymn with the intent that the middle three verses would each be sung by a different male voice as a solo, each representing the three "kings" as they describe the gift that they bring. The first and last verses, therefore, would be sung by everyone as verses of praise to what God has accomplished. Needless to say, this way of singing the hymn is almost never done.
As for "three kings"? In the 1800's, as you may have heard, they ascribed three kings or "wise men" because of the three gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. As you may guess, just because there are three gifts does not mean that there were three visitors. Still, this song teaches us how the presence of the Christ Child joined people together from different cultures and different backgrounds, and how Christ was and is everyone's king.