Cafe Communion – Epiphany 2019
Journey of the Magi
“A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long 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 gong 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 singing 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 lead all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I have 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.
This time of year feels like a frantic liturgical race!
Jesus was only born a few days ago, and in a matter of weeks our liturgy takes us from baby, to precocious child, to (todays reading) a fledgling prophet in the temple!
I personally cannot handle that speed.. I prefer to stop and wonder for a little longer.. To linger and question.
For this week, I’m still basking in the glow of epiphany.. the first ‘revealing of a deeper meaning’. The visit of the Magi from the east.. not three.. probably not too wise either! maybe many, men, women, maybe like a band of migrants?
I want to dwell for a moment and take us away from the picture books, from the sweet images of star and camels, crowns and gifts.
Instead I want to pause on the political nature of this story. The magi see a sign, a star, an invitation.
The air thick with magic and wonder… they leave behind comfort, security, they journey to an unknown destination – but they journey in hope.
And they encounter Herod… very powerful, and very insecure… a highly volatile megolamaniac.
They don’t do ‘wise’ very well – as they walk into a royal palace of an insecure and power hungry king and ask “where is the newborn king?”!
But then they find the child.. whatever they expected, whatever they anticipated, we cannot know – but was it this young child, toddler even?
What did they understand in this image?
We can only speculate…
But in this vision they change. Despite Herod’s insistence – they do not return. They see something dangerous and vulnerable.
They recognise that this is the time to disobey the powers of the nation.. there is something in the vision they have beheld, that compels them to effectively break the law.
They resist the powers of control, envy, greed and violence. They take another route home. They disobey…
I wonder .. as our times seem to become further and further vulnerable, what might we see in the nativity scene that could compel us to such insurrection?
Can the very nature of love, the gift of love so move us to resist the powers of violence, greed and power in our time? How far do we dare go to resist for Love? What are the smallest acts which breed such insurrection?
OF course, the politics doesn’t end there.. What happens next is nothing other than horror.. The justification of so many tyrants; ‘collateral damage, the loss of a few innocent lives in order to maintain ‘security’ to maintain the equilibrium of power, to resist that which threatens ‘our way of life’?
How many times have we heard such words – devoid of imagination, compassion or humanity. Entire systems designed to destroy the force of love and life.
It is this vision which we have hear d of in todays gospel… a gospel, which like the angel, can give us that helping hand, that secret inspiration, that call ‘to go another way’. This gospel tells us that Jesus has come to set the prisoner free. An act of imagination, emancipation, resistance and hope!
So… let us love the magi.. and their impossible, improbable story.. But let us hear the stark, harsh reality in their story too; as TS Eliot reminds us.. they travelled, they wearied, they persisted, and what they found prepared them for both life … and a new death.
Nothing would ever be the same again!!