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    Jan 11, 2015

    The Journey

    The Journey

    Series: All

    Category: All, Winter 2015

    Keywords: magi, wise men, presents, epiphany

    Oh you wise men and you wise women, God has need of us to journey with God. And what presents to bring?? Let's really look into the manager and then go home by another way –the way that leads to the church and the Living Body of Christ.

               One of my favorite poets is T.S. Elliot.  In 1927 he wrote the poem "The Journey of the Magi" based on today's Gospel. Not only does this poem help us have a view of what might have been the inner struggles of a Magi –one of the Wisemen, it also revealed a dramatic shift in the inner, spiritual life of the poet.  The year before he created this poem, T.S. Elliot had experienced his own Epiphany – his own sudden and profound understanding of his relationship with God. He left America, moved to England and became an active Christian and a member of the Church of England.  The "Journey of the Magi" was the beginning of his own journey that he expressed in his poetry as he began using Christian symbols.

              The poem begins in what the literary world had come to expect of T. S. Elliot's work such as the poem, "The Wasteland." It was written after World War I when T.S. Elliot had toured war torn Europe.. There was a great disillusionment all over the world, and his poetry reflected that great disillusionment.

              For two thirds of the poem. we hear echoes of pre-Christian Elliot's disillusionment.  He wrote:

              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. . .

              With voices singing in our ears, saying

              that this was all folly. 


              Then there came the last third of the poem – his new Christian reflection on the Gospel St. Matthew. 

              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 a low sky.

              God does that with all of us –changes us- when like T.S. Elliot , we are open to being transformed and begin seeing the world through the eyes of God.

              Tuesday, January 6th, is the Feast of the Epiphany which marks the arrival of the Wisemen at Bethlehem and their witness as each one peered into the manager and gave the Holy Family gifts. It also marks the beginning of the season of Epiphany that continues until Ash Wednesday.  Epiphany has been set aside by the church as our time of reflecting on this Gospel and our own spiritual Epiphany – the time we first knew there was a God – something greater than ourselves that loved us as if there were no others to love.  It is also a time of baptisms and baptismal reflections and then going on a journey and doing the work God has called us to do.

              I want us now to spend some time looking at the Biblical naming of the gifts given by the Wisemen to the Holy Family.

              The gifts given were gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  Wonder with me, and ask yourself, "What do we know about these three gifts?"

              First, the shepherds we traditionally claim were the first visitors, were the working poor, some petty criminals - not high up on the social scale.

              The Wisemen were on the other side of the social scale; they were shall we say, "economically secure." The first gift of gold says a lot about their status – only kings, nobility, successful merchants, and tax collectors like St. Matthew could give such gifts. Gold was not a common purchasing agent, unless you were wealthy.

              But it was also like the other two gifts - very practical.  As we all know, a baby in the house requires at first maybe a subtle budget change, but down the road it can balloon and challenge any budget.  Add a first grader on up to the teen years and the expenses balloon. But, as we look to the other two gifts, a third purpose emerges. Let's see what happens when you add the other two gifts to the mix.

              Frankincense is the second gift.  What is frankincense? It is an incense used in corporate and private prayers. As the warm fragrant smoke from the burning incense rises up, it is a visualization of our prayers rising up to God.  Because a faithful Jew was required to pray twice a day, an abundant supply of frankincense would be both a practical gift and a spiritual aidIt was also spiritually important because the theological thoughts of that day claimed that the incense would hide the smell of sins that were said to "stinketh" and therefore made hearing our prayers a little easier on God. It was also used at burials to mask any odors of decay. This can be an interesting reflection image for us this coming year as we say our daily prayers.

              Myrrh is a expensive fragrant oil that was used to clean a body and prepare it for a funeral. I use a variation of myrrh for the "Last Rites" as we ask God to cleanse the soul of the deceased.

              Myrrh was special –fit for a king and a king's family.  A little myrrh, if available, was something every family wanted and would have been treasured. Tragically, at that time in history it was needed frequently when babies were born due to the high infant mortality rate.  The mortality rate was so high that babies weren't named until eight days after their birth so as not to "waste," a family name that had been passed down for generations.

              While on vacation I couldn't help myself and let my mind wonder to what would Mary's baby shower have looked like in today's world if these three gifts were given to her? As her friends, and family gathered together to open up the baby shower gifts, would one of her friends say: "Mary, several of us went to the Bethlehem Funeral Home and bought for the baby, a great burial plan.  We also bought family plots in the cemetery in Nazareth, and we went to the market in Jerusalem and bought three jars of myrrh and ten pounds of incense that will be delivered to your home in Nazareth.  Here's an extra pound for your stay here in Bethlehem and a small jar of myrrh for the trip home. You know, just in case."

           Sounds like a baby shower you would like to give or even attend?  Would you be invited to other baby showers?

              Let me now take us back to the poem, "The Journey of the Magi" and Elliot's Epiphany.  You can actually still hear him read this poem on line.  His voice moves from disillusionment to one of excitement and joy.

              This was all a long time ago, I remember.

              And I would do it all again, but . . .

              Where we lead all that way for

              For birth or death?

              I have seen birth and death,

              But thought they were different;

              But this birth was hard and bitter agony for us,

              like Death, our death.

              We returned to our Kingdoms but no longer at ease here

              With alien people clutching their gods.

              I should be glad for another death.

              Both the death of the old T.S. Elliot's disillusionment – and death to an old way that resisted change were food for the trap of bah humbug!  He speaks of a hope filled future that began with our baptism and our Resurrection Epiphanies.

              We got an early start on Epiphany last Sunday when at the 10:30 service, we the baptized, gave witness to the baptism of Rowan Litterell.  This preteen girl was a living witness to us of the power of God's Holy Spirit calling every one of us to a time of celebration not only of our biological birth, but the day of our spiritual birth.  Both are important birthdays for all of us.

              Her future was once lying in a manger in Bethlehem town, and died on a cross and was resurrected from the dead in order that Rowan just like you and I will have as the collect said "spiritual of wisdom and eternal life with Christ. "

              Several months ago the collect of the day called us treasures – in Gaelic the "mo stars" of God –and so we are.  Each of us has followed a star in our life that led us to our personal Epiphany, our awakening like T.S. Elliot.  There is no particular age that this occurs.  The youngest and the oldest among us can and do have Epiphanies. And like T.S. Eliot, our Epiphanies are not to be kept secret, but to be told to one another and to be told frequently to those who are asking us the questions about faith.  Questions not at all unlike those directed to St. Paul in his day and his one line response can be and should be our collective response, Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

              At my baptism at age 12, I like you received an abundance of gold, frankincense, and myrrh –our assurance from God that like you I too was a child God.  We, the baptized, receive the courage not to have to see everything –to prove every detail but to receive with open hearts the spirit of wisdom that fuels our assurance that "Jesus loves us this we know because the Bible tells us so."

              Oh you wise men and you wise women, God has need of us to journey with God and bring others with us to really look into the manager and then go home by another way –the way that leads to the church and the family of the baptized that are Living Body of Christ.   Amen