Saturday, 5 January 2019

January 6th and those Wise Men/Magi/Kings

January 6th  -  "Little Christmas" in some Christian traditions -  the end of the celebration of the birth of Jesus.

Many Christians observe it with regard to the story in the gospel according to Matthew when the wise men  (sometimes called the Magi) allegedly presented gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to to the young child Jesus.

These days it is called the Feast of the Epiphany.  It happens to fall on a Sunday this year.  ("Epiphany"  many of us know that word as referring to those  experiences of clarity about someone, some thing, some experience, some poem etc. which hitherto had been murky or unclear),

In former times the Church of England calendar called it "The Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles" on the basis of a belief that the wise men were Gentiles.   Matthew does not specify that there were three of them -  but they became "The Three Wise Men" on the basis that they offered three gifts.

Again, Matthew never calls them Kings. This promotion to royal status came about because of a verse in the Psalms  (72:10)   'May the kings of Tarshish and of distant shores bring tribute to him. May the kings of Sheba and Seba present him gifts."

In its context that verse probably is all about King Solomon, but early Christians hi-jacked it to make it refer to Jesus and the gifts he was supposed to have received.


So now that I have de-constructed the story ( a de-construction never to be preached!)  I turn to its poetic beauty.  

None does this better than the St, Louis, MO born and determined Anglophile T.S. Elliot.  I love to hear and read his poem "The Journey of the Magi".

You can hear him reading his own work, and also read the text below.

Marvelous and magical I say

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.

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 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
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 wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arriving at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you might 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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