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Music Notes from Denise, January 6, 2024

This Sunday we will celebrate the Feast of Epiphany when we read about the three “wise” visitors who come to visit the infant Jesus in Bethlehem. Our Processional hymn is We three kings of orient are, written by John Henry Hopkins in 1857. Our Bible doesn’t describe the visitors as kings, and they aren’t limited to three, but traditionally we represent the three gifts with three visitors. Our choir basses usually take on this portrayal by processing in crowns and singing the three inner stanzas. The opening stanza is about the journey of the Magi to Bethlehem. The middle three stanzas explain a meaning for each of the three gifts. Gold signified royalty, and frankincense, deity. Myrrh foretold that the Christ child was born to die. The last stanza summarizes the song, calling Jesus the “King and God and Sacrifice,” and ending in a peal of alleluias. (


Our Sequence hymn will be The First Nowell. This carol is an anonymous folk song, probably from the 17th century. While the tune The First Nowell is also a folk song, it did not appear in print until William Sandys's Christmas Carols, Ancient and Modern in 1833, with this text. According to Alan Luff, the melody may come from Cornwall, England, because Sandys transcribed it there, and because two other songs from that region are quite similar (The Hymnal 1982 Companion, vol. 3A, p. 223). This carol tells a story loosely based on the Gospel accounts in Luke 2 and Matthew 2 of the events surrounding Jesus' birth, with the shepherds, the star, and the wise men. The first two lines of the final stanza calls us to action – as the wise men reverently worshiped the Christ, so we should “with one accord sing praises to our heavenly Lord.”  (


The St. Martin’s Choir offertory will be a new hymn written by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette: The Old Ones Among Us, sung to the familiar Cradle Song tune that we sing for Away in a manger. Carolyn gave me permission to use this new hymn after she wrote it on 12/25/23, this past Christmas evening. It tells the story of Simeon and the prophet Anna, who had waited so long for the Messiah to come.

The old ones among us have wisdom to share; we learn from their joy and the pain that they bear. Their years of experience point to the way that we can be faithful and hopeful each day.  Old Simeon knew he had waited so long. So when he held Jesus, his heart filled with song: “My eyes have now seen the salvation God brings; this baby will bring us incredible things!”  A prophet named Anna— a widow— was there; her life was a pattern of worship and prayer. So when she saw Jesus, she spoke of the boy; her heart overflowed with God’s good news of joy.  O God in this pairing— in two stories told—may we find new hope through these ones who were old. May we see, through them, what’s in front of our eyes—the blessing of Jesus who changes our lives. Text: Copyright © 2023 by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette. All rights reserved. Used with permission. Email:   New Hymns:


Our Communion hymn is also one written by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette, All of You Who Walked in Darkness. From her book, God’s World is Changing (Copyright Carolyn Winfrey Gillette, 2022) she wrote: “As we live through this current time of great change—a changing climate, changing conversations, a changing church, and our changing calling—we welcome God’s gift of light. It’s not just that we share the light of Jesus’ love with others. We welcome the light of Christ that others bring to us through their faithfulness and love.”


Our Final hymn will reflect the additional observance on the First Sunday after the Epiphany, the baptism of Jesus. The hymn Christ, when for us you were baptized, was written by Francis Bland Tucker (1895-1984). The son of a bishop and brother of a Presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, he was educated at Virginia Theological Seminary. He was ordained priest in 1920 after having served as a private in Evacuation Hospital No. 15 of the American Expeditionary Forces in France during W.W.I. From 1925 to 1945, he was rector of St. John's Church, Georgetown, Washington, D.C. Then until retirement in 1967 he was rector of John Wesley's parish in Georgia, old Christ Church, Savannah. In "Reflections of a Hymn Writer" (The Hymn 30.2, April 1979, pp.115–116), he speaks of never having a thought of writing a hymn until he was named a member of the Joint Commission on the Revision of the Hymnal in 1937 which prepared the Hymnal 1940. Later he served on the Theological Committee which reviewed material for the The Hymnal 1982. There his poetic talent was most adept at providing new phrases in older hymns where the original lines were too obsolete or sexist for late-twentieth-century users of the hymnal. (Leonard Ellinwood, DNAH Archives)

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