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Epiphany: Journeying with the Magi

Kristin Noblin

Wednesday marked the Christian Feast of Epiphany, or the time when the wise men visited the baby Jesus.  Yes, it's true: most nativities lie.  According to Scripture, Mary, Joseph, and the baby were long gone from the manger by the time the magi showed up on the scene, and I'm sure the shepherds were too.  I didn't really learn that the magi were still on their way when Jesus was born--at least, not in a way that stuck--until either high school or college, and I remember being disappointed.  I'm not entirely sure why: perhaps because it seemed weird that the Christmas story extended outside of December, perhaps it was because of the misleading nativities, perhaps it was sadness for the magi who missed the big event and arrived after the fact.

Yet now I find it reassuring that the story continues beyond the decorations coming down, vacations ending, routines resuming.  Epiphany serves as an important reminder that the coming of Christ is about both waiting and movement.  While Israel waited for the Messiah and a teenager waited for contractions, the magi were still on their way, still seeking, still anticipating wonder.  It is perhaps the core of the gospel--God became flesh and walked among us--and we are called to wait, to journey, to worship, which seems so fitting for those of us living in this tension where Christ has already and not yet come.  As a friend aptly tweeted recently, "Words for Epiphany: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it."  What are you journeying toward this new year?  Are you paying attention along the way?

I find that poetry helps remind me to pay attention to all that is around me and all that is within me.  I first read this poem on a friend's blog last year and stumbled upon it again today.

The 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 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 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.

--T. S. Eliot