Journey of the Magi

T. S. Eliot reads "Journey of the Magi" - YouTube

Since 1982 I have read T.S. Eliot’s poem Journey of the Magi in Christmas worship every year. I could not imagine an Advent season without Eliot’s words and questions. Early on in my many years of serving a most caring congregation in Kansas City I mentioned my love of this poem and from that moment onwards members of that congregation responded by sending me Christmas cards each year almost exclusively of the wise men ( Matthew 2:1-12). So once again the time has arrived to delight in Eliot’s poem and to ponder his question – we were led all that way for Birth or Death? Take a serious moment to hear this question addressed to yourself. What do you conclude? The poem is long so I shall be brief. Enjoy. This link should open for you with Eliot reading his own poem:

The Journey of the Magi
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, sorefooted, 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. T.S. Eliot

Lord God hear our prayer.
In this season when we remember
Mary and Joseph and their journey to Bethlehem.
We remember the wise men bringing gifts and returning
by another route.
Our world today has all too many stories of
harried and hurried journeys.
Journeys begun because of fear and despair.
Journeys begun because there was
nowhere else to turn,
no way back,
and sadly for all too many,
no way forward.
Migrant and refugee, desperate to be called by name,
to be offered welcome, food and shelter, yet onward walk.
Their journey at every step so uncertain.
What kind of world do they find along the way?
What hope O Lord do they hold?
Gracious God, stir us from our comfortable sleep,
wake us up that we might change the world.
We pray today for those who along whatever “border”
will offer the stranger a word of welcome,
a place to shelter and
a meal to give the body strength.
We know we must do more,
might we become part of the answer
to the very prayer we make. Amen.

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