The feast of the Epiphany fills many people with wonder. There are these wise men from afar, a star in the sky, a babe in a manger, and extravagant gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh (whatever that is).
Though we know nothing about their number, their race, or their names, the mythic story unfolds. They arrive on camels. There are three of them, though the Gospel doesn’t mention a number. They are of three different race and bear the names Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar.
But, seemingly indifferent to the message of a savage king, Herod, and the tales of his household priests, they find themselves amazed at seeing a star. But, when they enter the house, there is nothing amazing there – just a mother and child. Yet they fall down and worship.
It’s a story that arouses our wonder, that amazes us.
As I was preparing my homily today, I came across two poems that, in very different ways, plumb the depths of this day.
T. S. Eliot’s “Journey of the Magi: is a classic. It’s worth your while to listen to the poem being read by T. S. Eliot himself or Sir Alec Guinness. The text is here.
Eliot speaks in the voice of one of the Magi, years later, recalling the journey. After recalling the hassles, he notes, in an almost nonchalant way:
…and so we continued,
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon,
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.
Not splendid, not overwhelming, but “satisfactory.”
But then Eliot reflects that this birth was “like Death, our death.” For this birth changes something in us and makes us uneasy with our old gods, our old ways. And so, “I should be glad of another death.”
The second poem comes from an unlikely author, Lawrence Ferlinghetti. “Christ climbed down,” which you can read here has five stanzas that have Christ coming down, “from his bare tree,” and running away from the trappings of Christmas, especially the tinsel trees, the Santa Clauses, the department store nativity scenes, and the winter wonderland caroling. But the last stanza opens up to us where Christ might come down:
Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
and softly stole away into
some anonymous Mary’s womb again
where in the darkest night
of everybody’s anonymous soul
He awaits again
the very craziest
of Second Comings
Christ comes in anonymity, as he did to the Magi, so that we can reconceive the coming of Christ – in our souls.
And so I recall the words of the Dominican mystic, Meister Eckhart:
“What good is it for me if Mary gave birth to the Son of God 1400 years ago and I don’t give birth to God’s son in my person and my culture and my times?”