Summary: Communion Meditation for December 4, 2005
TS Eliot wrote one of my favorite Christmas poems many years ago entitled, ‘Journey of the Magi.’ Written from the perspective of one of the Magi, it contains a very reflective perspective on the travels to find the Christ child and the results of that meeting.
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 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 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 arriving 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.
The Magi’s perspective is one of years and probably decades looking back at their hard journey, full of doubt and uncertainty and wondering if their journey was worth all the trouble. Their encounter with the Christ Child raises questions about the meaning of birth, death, and life. They find themselves changed by the experience and they realize it when they return to their own nation, their own homes, their own people and it is no longer the same as it once was.
Now this poem is not the Gospel, I make that clear this morning. Yet, as I remember, Christianity was an influence on Eliot, although I do not recall to what extent. But as I reflect on both the poem and our main text for this morning, it leads me to ask the question, ‘Why did the Magi seek out Jesus?’
Matthew is the only gospel writer to write of their long journey from the east and their story is interesting. In fact, I find it to be one of the more interesting parts of the Christmas story for one reason: They are like so many of us. They are on a search for what is true and what is real. They are seeking a new experience that might satisfy their need for new knowledge. Or love, or truth, or who knows what else.
Their connection to the Christmas story is their passion, the pursuit of a new King, a new leader, because they have ‘seen his star in the east and they have come to worship Him.’ Therefore, because they are wise men, and they have this passion, this passion for expanding their base of knowledge and experience, they go off in pursuit of this new Jewish King.
Another translation of their identity in verse 1 is ‘astrologers.’ For many of us today, that term conjures up images of horoscopes, palm readers, Tarot cards, and other such things. And this could be true.
However, let us think for a moment about Daniel and his three friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abenigo. From their story, we learn that ‘astrologers’ were not necessarily people like ‘Madam So and So’ who has a place down on ‘Such and Such Street’ who for a price will tell your future by reading your palm or using Tarot cards. They were learned men. They were scholars. They were the ‘intelligentsia’ (the brains) of their day.
Most likely, they studied other cultures and were acquainted with Jewish traditions and faith. They also represent us because they represent all of the people who had yet to hear of the Good News that would come from the life and death and resurrection of the Baby Jesus.