“Songs of Thankfulness and Praise”

“Songs of Thankfulness and Praise”

The holy Epiphany season — this year having consisted of the Feast of the Epiphany of Our Lord (January 6th) and four Sundays after the Epiphany — is so named because of the manifestation or appearing of our Savior to mankind (from the Greek   ejpifavneia as in II Timothy 1:10, etc. and from its verbal form in Titus 2:11, etc.).  We commonly speak of “the Epiphany of our Lord,” first of all, with reference to His manifestation to the Wise Men from the East (Matthew 2:1–12), as those Gentiles were directed to find “the King of the Jews” in Bethlehem of Judea by the guiding of a special star (v. 2) and by at least two prophecies of the Old Testament Scriptures.  The first prophecy, Numbers 24:17, identified the star itself and its significance as signaling the Savior’s birth; and the second, Micah 5:2, cited by the chief priests and scribes of the Jews, directed them specifically to “Bethlehem Ephratha” as His birthplace.  We, who are Gentile Christians (non-Jews), specially treasure this manifestation of the new-born Savior because it demonstrates the universality of God’s grace (Titus 2:11) and marks the first particular event that sets forth the “good tidings of great joy,” the Christmas Gospel, “to ALL people” (Luke 2:10) and caused the Light of Salvation, “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (II Corinthians 4:6), to be manifested as the “Light to lighten the Gentiles” and not merely as the glory of God’s people, Israel (Luke 2:30–32).

But “the Epiphany of Our Lord” also refers to other manifestations of the Savior to mankind as the Son of God and the Redeemer of the world.  We note, for example, His manifestation in the Temple at Jerusalem at the age of twelve years, where He testified that He “must be about [His] Father’s business” (Luke 2:49).  And, although that statement was somewhat veiled, so that even His earthly parents were mystified by it (v. 50, 51b), in retrospect it is abundantly clear (Cf. John 17:4).  He was manifested at His Baptism in the Jordan River when the Father spoke from heaven and the Holy Ghost descended upon Him in the form of a dove (Matthew 3:16–17) and in a similar testimony at His Transfiguration (Matthew 17:5; II Peter 1:17–18) ; and He was manifested by John the Baptist in his preaching as the Savior’s forerunner (John 1:29; cf. Malachi 3:1).

However, particularly in His public ministry, beginning at the age of thirty (Luke 3:23), Jesus, as our Divine Prophet, “revealed Himself by word and deed…as the Son of God and the Redeemer of the world” (Q/A 132, A Short Explanation of Luther’s Small Catechism, St. Louis: CPH, 1943).  The expression “by word and deed” refers to His preaching and His miracles, both of which manifested Him to mankind in unmistakable terms (Cf. Luke 4:17–22; John 2:11; 20:31–32; etc.).  Moreover, as we confess in our Catechism, His Epiphany continues to this very day, as “by the preaching of the Gospel [He] still reveals Himself…” (Ibid.) and “sends men to preach the Gospel” as His emissaries or ambassadors (Ibid., Q/A 155a; cf. Luke 10:16; Mark 16:15; II Corinthians 5:19b; II Timothy 4:2; etc.).

And finally, Christ’s second visible Advent and ultimate Epiphany to men will occur when He shall appear in the clouds of heaven for judgment (Matthew 24:30; 26:64) and will be undeniably recognized (Revelation 1:7) and universally acknowledged and confessed as “Lord” by “every tongue” (Philippians 2:10–11)  —by the believers still on earth and by the saints in heaven with joy and loving gratitude as their gracious Lord (Luke 21:28; Revelation 19:6–9), and by all unbelievers and the damned in hell in shame, terror and contempt as their sovereign Lord (Matthew 25:41, 46a; Revelation 1:7b) — “to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:11).

We have a wonderful hymn in The Lutheran Hymnal (#134) that treats the Epiphany of Our Lord and briefly summarizes all of these manifestations of the Savior.  Its title is the title of our article, and it bears special consideration during the holy Epiphany season.  It was written by Christopher Wordsworth in 1862 as a “recapitulation of the subjects presented…throughout the season of the Epiphany” (W. G. Polack, Handbook to the Lutheran Hymnal, 1942, p. 106).  It was Wordsworth’s conviction that it is “the first duty of a hymn-writer to teach sound doctrine, and thus to save souls” and that the materials for church hymns should be sought first in the Holy Scriptures (Ibid., p. 603).

The first stanza of the hymn expresses the Christian’s gratitude and praise to the Savior as the God-man promised Redeemer of the world (John 1:14) for His manifestation according to divine prophecy in His birth at Bethlehem (Micah 5:2) as the “Branch” from King David’s lineage (Jeremiah 23:5–6) and in His manifestation to the wise men from the east (Isaiah 60:3ff.; Matthew 2:1–12):

 “Songs of thankfulness and praise,
Jesus, Lord, to Thee we raise,
manifested by the star
to the sages from afar,
Branch of royal David’s stem
in Thy birth at Bethlehem.
Anthems be to Thee addressed,
God in man made manifest!”

The second stanza traces Jesus’ manifestation “at Jordan’s stream” “where John was baptizing” (John 1:28–36) and testifying as the Savior’s forerunner (Cf. Malachi 3:1) that this was indeed the very Christ, “the Lamb of God,” identified in divine prophecy as He “which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29; cf. Isaiah 53).  It was also “at Jordan’s stream” that Jesus manifested Himself in His active obedience by being baptized of John “to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15), even though He Himself, as the sinless Son of God, had no need of Baptism “for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38), as did John (Matthew 3:14).  There also God the Father manifested Him as “[His] beloved Son” (v. 17), and the Holy Ghost confirmed that identification by “lighting upon Him” in the form of a dove (v. 16).  Moreover “at Cana,” as the divine “Wedding-guest,” Jesus “manifested forth His glory” (Cf. John 1:14) by “changing water into wine” as His very first miracle; “and His disciples believed on Him” (John 2:11) according to the intended purpose of all His recorded miracles (20:31):

“Manifest at Jordan’s stream,
Prophet, Priest, and King supreme,
and at Cana, Wedding-guest,
in Thy Godhead manifest;
manifest in power divine,
changing water into wine.
Anthems be to Thee addressed,
God in man made manifest!”

In the third stanza, Wordsworth chooses Jesus’ healing of the man sick of the palsy (Matthew 9:2ff.) as a particular fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy of the Messiah “making whole palsied limbs” (Isaiah 35:6a) and proclaiming Gospel comfort to a “fainting soul” in manifestation of His divine office (Isaiah 61:1–3; cf. Matthew 11:4–5).  The poet also points out that Jesus manifested Himself as “the Son of God” (Matthew 4:3) in His defeat of Satan by the use of His almighty Word (v. 4; also v. 7 and v. 10), “quelling all the devil’s might” as the prototype of our defeat of our adversary by the very same means (I Peter 5:9a; James 4:7b).  And finally, Wordsworth alludes to Acts 10:38–39a in the fact that Jesus’ entire public ministry was filled with miracles, making Himself “manifest in gracious will, ever bringing good from ill” in testimony of His boundless mercy to the children of men:

 “Manifest in making whole
palsied limbs and fainting soul;
manifest in valiant fight,
quelling all the devil’s might!
Manifest in gracious will,
ever bringing good from ill.
Anthems be to Thee addressed,
God in man made manifest!”

The first two strophes of the fourth stanza enumerate several “signs of the times” (Matthew 21:25) that will signal “the coming of the Son of Man” (Matthew 24:27) in His second and final visible advent to this sinful world.  Thereupon His ultimate Epiphany to men will occur when He appears illocally in the clouds of heaven for judgment (Matthew 21:27; 24:30; 26:64).  At the sound of the trumpet (I Thessalonians 4:16), all who are in their graves will hear His voice and come forth (John 5:28–29a).  Then He will not only be seen and recognized by all people on all hemispheres of the globe at the very same time, those still living and those resurrected (Revelation 1:7), but He will be universally acknowledged and confessed as the Lord of heaven and earth by “every tongue” (Philippians 2:10–11), by believers and unbelievers alike,“to the glory of God the Father” (v. 11).  Such confession will not signal the universal conversion of mankind envisioned by Millennialists, however, for “many there be” (Matthew 7:13) which “shall go away into everlasting punishment,” Jesus tells us in Matthew 25:46, because they “[have] not believed in the name of the only-begotten Son of God” (John 3:18b).  Wordsworth sings of this final Epiphany:

“Sun and moon shall darkened be;
stars shall fall, the heavens shall flee;
Christ will then like lightning shine,
all will see His glorious sign!
All will then the trumpet hear,
all will see the Judge appear!
Thou by all wilt be confessed:
God in man made manifest!”

And finally, the poet refers to Christ’s spiritual Epiphany or manifestation in His precious Word, the Word preached (Isaiah 55:10–11; Romans 10:14–18) and the Word written down, “the  Scriptures,” (John 5:39; II Timothy 3:15), the Word in which “the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men” (Titus 2:11).  As those who have been objectively “justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” and have received forgiveness of sins and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness personally “by faith without the deeds of the Law” (Romans 3:28), we are “reconciled to God” (II Corinthians 5:19b).  And, as His children (Galatians 3:26), having “receive[d] the adoption of sons” (Galatians 4:5), we are now to imitate our Savior, Peter writes in his first epistle (2:21), walking “in the paths of righteousness for His Name’s sake” (Psalm 23) as the fruit and evidence of our faith (John 15:5; Galatians 5:25).  Christ now dwells in our hearts by faith (Ephesians 3:17), so that by faith in His “exceeding great and precious promises” we might “by these…be partakers of the divine nature” (II Peter 1:4), “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people, that [we] should show forth the praises of Him who hath called [us] out of darkness into His marvelous light” (I Peter 2:9).

“Grant us grace to see Thee, Lord,
mirrored in Thy holy Word.
May we imitate Thee now
and be pure as pure art Thou,
that we like to Thee may be
at Thy great Epiphany
and may praise Thee, ever blest,
God in man made manifest!”

May He grant to all of us the perpetual blessings of His Epiphany by graciously keeping us steadfast in His Word and faith unto our end; for “this is His gracious and good will” (Luther).

D. T. M.