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TLH 128 “Brightest and Best of the Sons of the Morning”


“Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.’” (Matthew 2:1-2)
The magi, guided by God, did not find the “King of the Jews,” as they supposed; they found the King of all people. Jews of Jesus’ day looked to the Old Testament patriarch Abraham as their religious and ethnic ancestor. God had made a covenant with Abraham that from his descendants would come the Messiah; and for the most part, Jews considered the promise of the Messiah to be exclusive to their ethnicity. Gentiles, in most Jews’ reckoning, were not included in that promise. However, in that regard they overlooked the glorious God-given Messianic prophecy of Isaiah, who wrote, “The Lord will arise over you, And His glory will be seen upon you. The Gentiles shall come to your [Jesus’] light, And kings to the brightness of your rising.” (Isaiah 60:2-3)
The magi were Gentiles, and with the church festival of Epiphany (“manifestation”), we celebrate the fact that Jesus is King—and Savior—not only of the Jews, but also of all people of all times and all places.
“Brightest and Best of the Sons of the Morning” is an Epiphany hymn. Verse 1 speaks of the son (not s-u-n) that truly dispels darkness, the “Star of the East” seen by the magi, which guided them to the Christ child and which guides us also to our Savior. “Brightest and best of the sons of the morning, / Dawn on our darkness and lend us thine aid; / Star of the East, the horizon adorning, / Guide where our infant Redeemer is laid.”
The magi brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to Jesus. Verse 3 poses the question of what gifts we should offer: “Shall we not yield Him, in costly devotion, / Odors of Edom and off’rings divine, / Gems of the mountain and pearls of the ocean, / Myrrh from the forest and gold from the mine?”
Verse 4 answers that such gifts would be useless, but there is a far richer gift that even the poorest among us can offer: “Vainly we offer each ample oblation, / Vainly with gifts would His favor secure. / Richer by far is the heart’s adoration; / Dearer to God are the prayers of the poor.”
Certainly, material offerings are good and proper and necessary to support the ministries of the Church, but God is best pleased not with our material offerings, but with our hearts. Moved by the Gospel promise of full and complete forgiveness of our sins, and eternal life in heaven solely because of the perfect life and substitutionary death of the Messiah—not just for the Jews, but for all people—our natural response is love, devotion, and submissive obedience to His will. We do this not in any way to merit His favor, but solely because of overflowing gratitude for His grace to us in Jesus Christ, the “Brightest and best of the sons of the morning.”

Craig Owings is a retired teacher and serves as assistant editor of the Lutheran Spokesman. He lives in Cape Coral, Florida.