Songs for the Journey from Advent to Epiphany

One of the challenges when planning a hymnal is deciding where a particular song belongs, knowing that though the index in the back of the hymnal may suggest multiple places for a particular song, the location of the song has greater influence on when it will be sung. The challenge in this Noteworthy is to think outside the hymnal placement, as each one of these songs can be used both during the time from Advent to Epiphany as well as at other times of the year.

What Child Is ThisLUYH

This is a great song to include in the period between Christmas and Epiphany, as it moves from Christ’s birth to the coming of the magi. While many versions create a refrain from the text of the first stanza (“This, this is Christ the king, whom shepherds guard and angels sing. Haste, haste, to bring him laud, the babe, the son of Mary”), this weakens the overall text and its theological richness. By maintaining the entirety of the second stanza especially, we have the fullness of the gospel message in one song. This keeps the song from being yet another trite, romanticized, sterile version of a Hallmark Christmas card and instead deepens the significance of the Christ-child’s birth.

An interesting juxtaposition of text, and a way to bring Christmas and Good Friday together, would be to alternate between “What Child Is This” and “Ah, Holy Jesus, How Have You Offended,” with both in the key of E minor. Begin with stanza 1 of “What Child,” followed by stanza 1 of “Ah, Holy,” then stanza 2 of “What Child,” and stanzas 2 and 3 of “Ah, Holy,” concluding with stanza 3 of “What Child” and stanza 4 of “Ah, Holy.” You may want to have a small group or choir sing “What Child Is This” with the congregation singing the text of “Ah, Holy Jesus.”

The text was written by William Chatterton Dix, a businessman and poet. Dix wrote several well-known hymn texts, such as “As with Gladness Men of Old,” another text for Epiphany. “What Child Is This” first appeared under the title “The Manger Throne” in 1865. The first known printing of Dix’s text with the tune greensleeves was in Bramley and Stainer’s Christmas Carols New and Old (1871). That wedding of text and tune was not to be “pulled asunder.” The tune greensleeves gained such immediate popularity that on the same day in September 1580 two people secured licenses to print it, and twelve days later a third version appeared, paired with a sacred text. greensleeves is mentioned in Shakespeare, appears in operas, and has been arranged for orchestra and as a solo for just about every instrument. The tune’s appeal has led to the popularity of “What Child Is This” as a carol.

Jesus, Jesus, Oh, What a Wonderful ChildLUYH

This is a wonderful song to celebrate the Christ-child and the gifts of new life and hope Jesus brings. While the music here is enough to support the congregational singing, it really is just a template from which to play, so improvisation is encouraged. Especially appropriate would be the addition of a string bass, with the musical texture filled in by a clarinet to give it a “Dixieland” quality.

For a fuller accompaniment, see the Leader’s Edition of Sing! A New Creation (Faith Alive Christian Resources). A SATB with soloist arrangement by Tom Fettke is also available through Lillenas.

There is one stanza not included in this version. It reads:

He was herald by the angels

born in a lowly manger

The virgin Mary was his mother

and Joseph was his earthy father

Three wise men traveled from afar,

they were guided by a shining star

to see King Jesus where he lay

in a manger filled with hay

Jesus, the Light of the WorldLUYH

You may want to go straight from “Jesus, Jesus, Oh What a Wonderful Child” into “Jesus, the Light of the World.” A transition for doing just that was written by Diane Dykgraaf, a member of the worship and music team at Faith Alive Christian Resources.

“Jesus, the Light of the World” is a great blending of a traditional carol with a little soul. Words from Charles Wesley’s well-known carol “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” are interspersed with the refrain “Jesus, the light of the world.” The song concludes with the chorus, “We’ll walk in the light, beautiful light. . . .” The resulting message is that the Christmas story isn’t so much about a baby as about the difference that baby makes in the world around us and, indeed, the beauty of his mercy in our own lives. Textually it complements the message of “Jesus, Jesus, Oh What a Wonderful Child,” which speaks of the new hope and life we have in Christ.

Charles Wesley’s text was originally ten stanzas long, and went through many iterations to become what we now know as “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” This arrangement includes only the first stanza and the first half of the second and third—thus missing some of the incarnational imagery that is so strong in the traditional carol, but filling that hole with the message of Jesus as the light. While this song is appropriate for Christmas, it is equally appropriate for Epiphany or any other time when the focus is on Jesus as the light.

The text and tune have both been attributed to George D. Elderkin, though some believe that the real author is unknown and others have attributed it to J. V. Coombs. The first published version of “Jesus, the Light of the World” seems to be in James M. Black’s 1898 The Chorus of Praise, in which the chorus appeared with Wesley’s “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” and was attributed to Elderkin. It is that version of the text that is presented here. In some other sources you may find different words written in place of Charles Wesley’s.

Come to Us, O God/Stay with Us, O Lord

“Come to Us, O God” is a reflective song filled with Advent images of hope, dwelling, and light. While the text is an Advent plea, it could also be used as an evening prayer. This song can be sung by a soloist, choir, praise team, or as a congregation. A choral arrangement is available from Oregon Catholic Press (

Barbara Bridges, the author/composer, is a cantor, soloist, and choir director. Her experience as a singer is evident in the beautiful, flowing, melodic lines of this piece. Bridges also has much experience with Taizé prayer, and this piece seems to be influenced by that style of music.

This song is also used in the worship series “Longing for More” on page 3 of this issue.

Arise, Your Light Is Come!LUYH

This final song again focuses on the Epiphany image of light, but could be included in any worship service that focuses on Christ as the light of the world, or at the end of worship as a call to service. Like “Jesus, the Light of the World,” the text teaches us that the coming of Christ is not the end of the story, but rather the point at which we enter the scene. Spurred on by the Spirit, we take up the message of Christ in Luke 4 where he quotes Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

This song’s text was written by Ruth Duck, an ordained pastor in the United Church of Christ, a professor of worship at Garret-Evangelical Theological Seminary, and a well-known hymn writer and member of the Hymn Society of the United States and Canada. It is set here to the tune festal song, composed by William Henry Walter. He was an organist in Presbyterian and Episcopal churches in New Jersey and then in New York City before becoming the organist at the Trinity Chapel of Columbia University, where he was awarded an honorary doctor of music degree in 1864.


Rev. Joyce Borger is senior editor of Reformed Worship and a resource development specialist at the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship.

Reformed Worship 105 © September 2012, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.