I don’t usually explain my titles (it spoils the fun) but on this occasion I want to make sure no-one misses the reference. My title is a slight miss-quote of the first sentence of T.S. Eliot’s poem “Journey of the Magi“. It’s one of my favourite poems. In all my years of studying English and American literature (and he comes up in both) I never really got to grips with Eliot but I have always loved this particular poem, it speaks so deeply of the struggle of faith, of trying to understand God and our relationship with God, a struggle I have personal experience of. And I use it today because today is, in the Western Church, Epiphany.
Epiphany is the celebration of the arrival of the Wise Men or Magi (ok, if you must, the Three Kings – though the greek of Matthew’s gospel does not really allow for such a translation – they were clearly Magi, Persian students of the stars and of astrology – from which we get magic and magician, and which also can be translated using Wise Men – and interestingly wizard is derived from wise as well. Ok, enough of this aside!). It is the twelfth day of Christmas, at which point all the decorations come down – I will be taking ours down after lunch. As a former Anglican now Methodist I miss Epiphany. It tends to get a bit subsumed amidst all the Covenant Services, whereas when I was growing up the Epiphany readings were always read on the Sunday closest to the 6th January. I was always amazed at the faithfulness of these non-Jews, these wise and clearly powerful people (probably men but the Bible doesn’t say) who came and offered their expensive gifts to a baby born in poor and humble surroundings, certain, despite their previous arrival in Jerusalem, that this child was of great importance. It has always spoken to me of the way that God will find an appropriate way to speak to people by means they understand – for Luke’s shepherds it is messengers, but for the Magi God speaks through the stars (no angel appears for them until they have already seen the Christ-child).
And speaking to people in a way they understand is vital if we are to live alongside one another. In his blog yesterday one of my favourite church bloggers, Church Mouse, considered the fact that this Christmas period has seen a number of violent acts targeted specifically at Christians in a number of places around the world. I’ll leave it to you to read the article for yourself, but suffice to say I agree with Mouse’s conclusions. When we in the West, in the UK, talk of Christians being persecuted for our faith we need to be very aware of what is happening to people of faith elsewhere in the world – and as Mouse mentions, it is not only Christians who are violently targeted either. We must remember also that according to one of the Gospels (the one traditionally thought of as the one written for a mainly Jewish audience) it was gentiles who first paid homage to the Word made flesh. And we must be careful not to allow the violence of some to colour our view of people of other faiths and none, we must be careful to continue to recognise that God’s image can be seen in those different from us.
In one of the countries where violence has happened, Egypt, it is not yet Christmas. In fact, today is Christmas Eve in the Egyptian Coptic Church. And in relation to this I was pleased to read this article, that shows that, just as not all Christians are the same, not all Muslims are either. All faiths can become twisted and used for violence. Yet I believe that God, who made us all in God’s own image, who came and lived a human life amongst us, would want us to look beyond a person’s faith and recognise the value of life in all its variety – just as the Muslims sharing a Coptic Christmas Eve with their neighbours are doing, just as the Magi did as they knelt and paid homage to the baby Jesus.
Whatever road you are travelling, travel well,