18 December 2020 – Reflection

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.

“The Journey of the Magi” T.S. Eliot

Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26; 2 Samuel 6:12-19; Hebrews 1:5-14

The story of the magi is more traditionally reserved for Epiphany (the Christian feast day celebrated 12 days after Christmas), but I’ve decided to make an exception. The excerpt above is taken from T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Journey of the Magi” which describes in its stanzas the journey across countries to see the Christ. In this rendition, the magi actually witness the birth of Jesus, but the experience is not what they expected. 
The agony witnessed by the magi could refer to many things, as is the nature poems. Was the agony the physical labor of Mary, gritty and real in ways that stylized, sanitized images of the birth rarely are? Is it the melancholy of knowing that, while we celebrate birth now, the crucifixion is coming? Is it the death of all the things that we thought we knew about ourselves, about the world–truths which we thought were so fundamental until the meaning of the event turned the world upside-down? Is it the juxtaposition of the wondrous birth, full of hope and life, to the painful, broken world it will redeem? 
This experience of “we thought we knew what to expect, but we were so wrong” seems very apropos for the entire year of 2020, and instead of ignoring that feeling of loss, confusion, and revelation to be joyful and merry, today reflect on it. The magi left the nativity feeling resolutely changed, even if they didn’t understand why.
Today consider the circular nature of death and birth. Consider the old ways of understanding that die to make way for the revelation of “God with us.” Consider the ways that a broken world needs the passion of Easter just as much as the joy of Christmas.