"BRIGHTEST AND BEST"
"For we have seen His star in the east, and are come to worship Him" (Matt. 2.2)
INTRO.: A song which identifies the center of the gospel message as the One whose star the Wise Men saw is "Brightest And Best." The text was written by Reginald Heber (1783-1826). Produced when Heber was serving as minister at Hodnet, England, it was first published in the Nov., 1811, issue of the Christian Observer. Its first hymnbook publication occurred after his death in a posthumous collection of his songs entitled Hymns Written and Adapted to the Weekly Church Service of the Year that came out in 1827. Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, several tunes have been used with this hymn. The 1921 Great Songs of the Church (No. 1) edited by E. L. Jorgenson had an 1891 tune composed by Ira David Sankey.
The 1986 Great Songs Revised edited by Forrest M. McCann contains the most commonly used, traditional tune (Star of Light) composed for an 1892 anthem by James P. Harding. The 1953 Favorite Hymns Revised published by the Standard Publishing Co. used a tune (Barrett) composed by W. A. Barrett. I have been able to find no information about him, its background, or its origin of publication. There was a William Barrett who edited a hymnal called The Book of Psalms Illustrated in 1786, but I do not know if he was the composer of this tune or not. The same tune was found with another hymn, Thomas Hastings’s "Hail to the Brightness of Zion’s Glad Morning," in the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater.
The song refers to the coming of the Jesus Christ into the world as if the author were present.
I. Stanza 1 focuses on the light that Jesus brought
"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!"
A. Jesus is referred to as the "brightest and best of the sons of the morning" in that He is supreme over all the "morning stars" that sang together: Job 38.7, Rev, 22:10
B. The hope of the world at that time was that the Messiah would dawn on the world’s darkness: Mal. 4.2, 2 Pet. 1.19
C. Just as the Wise Men followed the star of the east to where the infant Redeemer was laid, God has given us a lamp to guide our feet to Him: Ps. 119.105
II. Stanza 2 focuses on both Jesus’s humanity and His deity
"Cold on His cradle the dewdrops are shining;
Low lies His head with the beasts of the stall.
Angels adore Him in slumber reclining,
Maker and Monarch and Savior of all."
A. Jesus was born into this world as a baby who lay in a cradle with beasts in a stall: Lk. 2.1-7
B. Yet, this same One was He whom the angels were commanded to worship: Lk. 2.8-14, Heb. 1.6
C. The reason was that He is Maker and Monarch and Savior of all: Col. 1.13-18
III. Stanza 3 focuses upon what people might offer to Jesus
"Say, shall we yield Him, in costly devotion,
Odors of Edom and offerings divine,
Gems of the mountain, and pearls of the ocean,
Myrrh from the forest, or gold from the mine?"
A. Certainly Jesus, because of who He is and what He did, is worthy of costly devotion: Rev. 5.12
B. The Edomites were known as traders, so some of the finest odors and other gifts would be available from them: Isa. 63.1
C. The Wise Men offered Him gold, frankincense, and myrrh: Matt. 2.10-11
IV. Stanza 4 focuses upon what should be offered to Jesus
"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."
A. While the desire to offer God fine gems, pearls, and gold is commendable, the fact is that God is not worshipped by men’s hands: Acts 17.24-25
B. Rather, He wants our heart’s adoration: Matt. 22.37
C. The incense that He truly desires is the prayers of the saints: Rev. 8.3-4
CONCL.: Some books have a fifth stanza, which is simply a repetition of the first, a common practice among hymnwriters in previous generations. This hymn was produced for the celebration of the ecclesiastical feast of the Epiphany. While New Testament Christians do not observe religious holy days because there is no authority in God’s word to do so, many of those special days are at least supposed to be connected with some Biblical event. Therefore, if songs related to them do express truth, then we should be able to sing them even though we do not give any credence to the days themselves. Certainly, as we proclaim the gospel message, we need to acknowledge Jesus as the "Brightest And Best."