Last Thursday I discovered that the Wise Men did not tidily take a week to arrive at the manger. It probably took about a year, or maybe two, for them to arrive. I am struck by the addition of time to their journey and can only marvel at their determination to follow what they knew to be true.
I realized their guide for their journey, the star, only appeared when it was dark, and I appreciate the metaphor for our own journeys.
I read T. S. Eliot's poem, "The Journey of the Magi" as part of today's sermon and am providing it below. You may also enjoy his "The Cultivation of Christmas Trees" and its sense of wonder.
Happy Epiphany, and God bless you.
Journey Of The Magi
T. S. Eliot
'A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.'
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.
Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.
All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.
It all looks different in the morning. Last night was all about the Angels, wonder, and the mystery of the birth of God’s son in a stable, in the dark, and without medical help.
In the clear light of day, the angels have withdrawn a little, the swirl of Heaven’s focus has dissolved, and we are left blinking at a child, improbably real; and, in the way of newborns, totally mesmerizing.
So soft. So small. So perfect. The Lamb of God and the hope of the world:
God’s Son, right…there.
I found myself on our porch one afternoon last week, wrapping tiny lights around the top of the railing. The wire stuck and twisted repeatedly, and the whole experience was becoming annoying instead of pleasurable. The second half went more smoothly. At present our lights are shining in the darkness, adding something to the season and perhaps brightening our corner of Woodlawn Avenue.
Watching these small spots of colors is strangely compelling - there is no other light source on our corner – and our lights look like jewels shining against the absolute night.
Into this space drops the thought that it has been a long time since I believed I had a future.
I served as a Chaplain as part of the Recovery Effort at Ground Zero in the wake of the September 11 attacks in 2001. I have rarely felt the Presence of the Divine as strongly as I felt it there. Being there always felt sacred: the prayers of the world were centered on the site. It was holy, and I felt safe there. After the site closed, and I could begin to let myself feel, I discovered that part of the attacks’ impact on me was that any sense of the future had been taken away.
Everything became short term. The idea of making plans more than a month in advance was impossible, because I didn’t know if I would be there. I made my bed, did the dishes every morning, and kept my apartment neat, in case family or someone official might have to enter. It has taken me seventeen years to be able to look ahead and plan to do something five years down the road.
Looking at the sunlight streaming through the window behind the organ in Grace Church last week, I was taken with the word “hope” in a small little panel at its base. The word itself is about two inches long by one inch high – it’s not very big. And it’s the thumbnail at the top.
I write this post to say that hope, no matter how small, shines like the tiny lights on our porch in the absolute dark, in the midst of trauma and its aftermath. Christmas this year is about the presence of light and the presence of God shining in the darkness. This Christmas, Jesus’ birth is bringing light to the world and restoring hope for the future.
I wish you a Christmas of wonder, joy, and hope.
God bless you,