What a beautiful story! It thrills the imagination. A star, kings, gifts, a child, a ruthless ruler; a dream; a journey; a search. What were their names? Where did they come from, these kings? Or were they magicians? Maybe astrologers? Perhaps philosophers? How did they travel? Camels? Desert ships sailing on moonlit sand? What became of them? What are they meant to teach us? That the life of the spirit is always a search? And often in darkness? That strangers bring you the best gifts of all? That wisdom consists in seeking and caring for and loving every child?
Is this not only a 2000 year old story, but the story of all the Martin Luther King, Jr’s? All the John Lewis’ of this world? All the Nelson Mendela’s? All the Rosa Parks? All the Susan B. Anthony’s? The story of all those who step out of their comfort zone?
The kings were seekers. They didn’t have exact directions; weren’t sure where they were going. They traveled by night, not day. A star, a tiny point in the sky, was their navigational sign. They are manipulated by a ruthless ruler, and after offering their gifts, they leave quickly and return home by another route. It’s the last we ever hear of them. Darkness and danger are more a part of their lives than joy and worship. No question about it: these travelers represent the Christian’s journey. They represent the restlessness and the price many people have to pay for being a believer.
T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Journey of the Magi” is a classic tale of endless restlessness.
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 night fires going out, and the lack of shelter
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
this is all folly. Oxford English Dictionary (OED) Links
Seeking after Jesus Christ and his message is hard. The kings knew that. Do you know it? Do I? So many of our sisters and brothers in humanity know the darkness, the hardness of the quest for Christ. I think of that dreadful on-going war in Afghanistan, the struggle in Iraq, our own troops, innocent men and women caught up in fear and death around the corner. I think of so many of the innocent civilians in those countries,
caught up in the terrorism of a few, as well as the politics of a few. I think of the hopes of so many the beginning of this 2021 for a time without war, a time of peace and respect among nations. Seeking after Christ is hard. I think of the innocent Palestinians, the innocent Israelis.
I think of our Franciscan brothers and sisters in Bethlehem, harrassed, trying to care for Palestinian Christians, refusing to surrender to pressure. Seeking after Christ is hard. I think of the poor and voiceless in our own cities and homes. I think of those suffering from the virus, those whose loved one is in an ICU, unable even to hold their hand. The unemployed, the homeless. Seeking after Christ is hard. I think of so many people, struggling to find Christ in their relationships, their partner, their children, our church. Seeking after Christ is hard.
My fellow Christians, we are all in search of the child. More than a search by blazing sunlight, our search is more often a stumble by starlight. Just when we think we have found the child, the search continues. We’re always returning home, by strange and different routes.
But we’re in it together. That’s our hope as well as our glory. The task may be not to gauge the distance we still have to travel, but to be attentive to what’s happening to us as we travel. So in this new year resolve to continue the search, sometimes in sunlight, most often by starlight, to find the Christ who loves and enlightens you.