"As with the Gladness of Old" by W. Chatterton Dix
This hymn is a prayer for God's presence in our lives as we draw closer to Him. The Magi showed faith in God and eagerness, as well as sacrifice, in their journey to see the Christ-child. So may we live as though we really believe and eagerly look forward to the day when we shall one day see Him. In the third stanza, the gifts of the Magi are not even named. The Magi took the trouble to bring “gifts most rare” on a long journey. So may we “All our costliest treasures bring, Christ, to Thee, our heavenly King.” This pilgrimage is not easy, so we sing, “Holy Jesus, every day keep us in the narrow way,” remembering that Jesus said, “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:14, ESV).
William C. Dix wrote this hymn in 1858 during an illness. It was published in 1861 in Hymns Ancient and Modern. Dix is also well-known for another Christmas text, “What Child Is This.”
“As With Gladness” is a prayer. The first three stanzas all have a similar structure “as they … so may we,” comparing the journey of the Magi to our Christian pilgrimage. In the third stanza, Dix does not even name the gifts of the Magi, unlike some other well-known hymns (including his own “What Child Is This”). The focus is on the sacrifice of the Magi in taking the trouble to bring the expensive gifts on a long journey. The fourth stanza is a more direct petition, asking Jesus to keep us faithful to the journey begun in the first three stanzas. The fifth stanza, which is omitted in some hymnals, describes heaven – the destination of our journey. Besides the omission of the fifth stanza, the most significant change sometimes made to the text is to eliminate references to the manger in stanzas two and three. Despite tradition, the clues in the biblical account indicating that the Magi did not come to the manger (which is, incidentally, not mentioned at all in Matthew's account) make it more accurate to refer to the “infant bed” or “cradle.”
This hymn is always sung to the tune DIX. Conrad Kocher, a German composer and church musician, originally wrote a longer version of this tune for a German chorale, “Treuer Heiland, wir sind hier,” which was published in 1838. William H. Monk omitted one phrase and altered a few notes of Kocher's tune to fit “As With Gladness” for the 1861 edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern, which he was music editor for. Even though Dix did not like the choice of this tune, it goes so well with the text that it now bears his name.
One hymn commentator suggests “Sing in three long lines rather than six short ones in order to reflect the longer phrases of the text” (Emily R. Brink and Bert Polman, eds., Psalter Hymnal Handbook, 514). Sing at a brisk tempo, with simple, consistent accompaniment for the first three stanzas, to show the uniformity of the message. Try adding additional instruments, such as a trumpet, for the final stanza.
This hymn fits best during Epiphany, but can also be sung at Christmas.