Friday, January 6, 2012

We Three Kings

"Nations will come to Your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising."  Isaiah 60

Today is Epiphany - a fancy word meaning revelation or manifestation.  WE celebrate this festival because the Light of the World has shined on us and made known to us The Savior, not only of Israel, but of all the Gentile lands.  That's you and me, people!  WE are the Gentiles to whom He revealed Himself. 

The story of the magi has been the subject of carols and even nifty little pop songs, but it carries a great (though often neglected) significance in the whole story arc of redemption.  Yes, these men of renown bring tribute and pay personal obeisance to this new King, but in doing so, they submit themselves and all their kingdoms to the rule of the New and Eternal King.  Then they return to their homelands, shining the light of the Good News: The Savior of the nations has come!

T.S. Eliot, in his poem, The Journey of the Magi, captures one powerful aspect of this story.  These men leave the Christ Child knowing that nothing will ever be the same again.  The meaning of earthly kingship has changed...forever.  It is suddenly clear that all the national, tribal, household, and personal gods that have been clung to are irrelevant...powerless.  These realizations are simultaneously comforting and unsettling.  THE Divine-Human King has been born and nothing can ever be the same again.  

It's good for us on this day, to reflect on the ways our own lives have been directly impacted by the light these magi carried back to their native lands.  We should rejoice and give thanks on this day for the manifestation of Our Savior to the US.

The Journey of the Magi
by T.S. Eliot

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 are times when 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 dirty 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 wineskins.
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.

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