The Journey of the Magi


In his wonderful poem The Journey of the Magi, T.S. Eliot tells the story of the Magi who followed a star to Bethlehem to see the Messiah.  

The last stanza is a masterpiece told from the perspective of one of the Magi years after the event: 

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 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.

On the surface, this may seem dark, especially the last line, but there's something extraordinary about the words of the Magi that bears some exploration.  

The Magi speaks of Birth and Death, capitalizing words for emphasis.  The birth and death that he speaks of are connected to the incredible transformation that he experienced at the end of his journey. 

He also speaks of how, upon their return, all of the Magi were different.  They felt unsettled and "no longer at ease" as they realized that their old life and old ways felt hollow compared to the wonder they felt at the sight of the Christ-child. 

At what seems to be a reflection on all of this at the end of his life, the Magi narrating the story admits that he "should be glad of another death."  This sounds dark, to be sure.  

But what he's actually wishing for is a future enveloped in hope, something that will lift him beyond the hollowness of the old life and old beliefs that he and his comrades returned to after their great adventure. 

There's a lot to love about this perspective and the lessons that the story of the Magi teaches us. 

Far too many Christians celebrate the arrival of Christ, the moment when God became one of us to rescue all of us, and then return to their old lives and old spaces as if nothing happened.  

It's become too routine, this celebration of the birth of the Christ-child and all that it brings with it.  We have done it so many times that we've lost our sense of wonder at how God entered into history to demonstrate how far God is willing to go to save and restore.  

The story of the Magi is filled with wonder and marked by the transformation that not only changes us but gives us a sense of holy discontent about the state of the world around us. 

If we let ourselves enter that story, we can discover just how incredible it truly is and find that we've been forever changed by it.  We won't be content to continue as we have with a hollow faith that settles for less-than-living.  

May you discover wonder in this new year.  May you embrace the transformation that comes when you embrace the story of God's love.  

And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.  


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