The Journey of the Magi

Advent is coming and is almost here. It is a season of ‘yet and not yet.’ Christ has come to us and Christ is not yet arrived; we have gone to him and we have not yet gone to him. It is a season of dual anticipation, for what is coming soon (the season of Christmas) and for what is at an unknown distance (the coming of Christ).

I have been strongly impacted the last few months by the Advent image of the journey of the Magi. The story is incredibly familiar to us, but also incredibly short. Much of what must have gone on is left unsaid. It is an element of this silence that has captured my imagination.

Totally not kings.

We three Kings

One of the few facts we know is that there were more than one Magi. Traditionally it is said that there were three, not only because of the three gifts but also because the world was divided into three parts. Thus one Magi was Asian, one African, one European. One can only assume that after such a journey (and probably before) they were friends. It is this friendship that inspires me. They traveled together through undoubted hardship, presented powerfully by T.S. Eliot in his poem “The Journey of the Magi.” The goal of this journey was nothing short of God himself.

This is our task as Christians, to follow the star to Christ wherever he is. But contrary to contemporary opinion, this is a journey to be taken together, as a community and in particular as friends. Here friendship finds it’s highest form, aiding each other to pursue the greatest good. We are all coming from the east, through uncertainty, to know Christ. And we too shall be overjoyed by each guiding light leading us to him.

I leave you with Eliot’s poem. It does not emphasize the side of friendship but it captures the challenge and struggle of this journey we all undertake. I recommend listening to Eliot himself read it.

The Journey Of The Magi

Of orient are . . .

Of orient are . . .

 

‘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, sorefooted, 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 kiking 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 might 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.

Justin Burgard is getting prepared. Advent is coming.

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One thought on “The Journey of the Magi

  1. There is a lovely passage towards the end of Evelyn Waugh’s novel Helena (about Constantine’s mother), in which the elderly Helena muses on the magi, as specially representative of those whose intellectually or politically complicated lives could endanger their ability to respond to God. It’s worth finding and pondering.

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