“‘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.
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.”
Thus begins the T.S. Eliot’s famous poem known as the Journey of the Magi, in which is described the challenge of the journey. I like reading it this time of year as we come towards the last day of Christmas as a reminder.
Journeys are never easy. And this Sunday, all of the gospel reading choices are about making a journey of one sort of another: there is the flight into Egypt; the journey of Mary and Joseph with the boy Jesus to the feast of the Passover in the temple; and there’s the journey of the Magi, which I have chosen for our attention this morning. It is human nature to be on the journey, looking for something. Abraham, the long forgotten and ancient patriarch set out on a journey in response to hearing a call by God. As a rite of passage for young men, many cultures such as the Lakota Sioux have the experience of the vision quest as a formative part of growing into adulthood. There is a reason that the image of following the star has such universal appeal.
While the voices may ring in our ears that this is all folly, and indeed many voices of contemporary culture assert that it is so, yet there is something fundamentally religious about human beings. And where that intersects with the practical side of life is this: most of us human beings cannot abide the notion that our lives are devoid of meaning. The vision quest reminds us that there is something greater to human existence that eating, sleeping and reproducing. There is that thing within the human spirit that demands that life have purpose and meaning. Why else would it be that one of the best-selling books of recent times was all about living a purpose driven life? When it is all said and done, the human spirit rebels against the notion that there is no purpose for life. Curiously this ties into the whole notion of sacrifice: life that is lived for a purpose is spent for a reason. Deny it as we might, there is a dimension of human being that is fundamentally religious.
So, today we have heard the story of the enigmatic visitors to the Christ Child, who make the sacrifice of an arduous journey and who come bearing costly gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. But as we hear the story of their journey, might it not give us pause to contemplate the nature of our own.
Is the star we follow the light of the grace of God in Jesus Christ? Is the star that we follow the hope of God’s redemption? Is the star we follow a vision for the kingdom of God? Or do we chase after something else?
What is it after all that truly gives your life meaning, and are you grateful to God for it?