“ A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel at night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.”
A reminiscence of one of the magi, speaking from the imagination of the poet T. S. Eliot.
The three kings we call them, coming from places unknown, a “cold coming”, a “hard time of it.”
They saw the star and followed and knew that something happened which made the cold hard trip necessary and worthwhile, but what?
What sort of king had been born?
They stop and ask directions. They ask that other king, Herod, called King of the Jews by the occupying Roman government. Herod, who remains known in history as a violent, bloodthirsty tyrant, who treasured and squandered the wealth and power of his kingship.
But the travelers didn’t know that. They simply wanted to know where the Birth had happened – the Birth of the new King of the Jews, the One whose star they had seen and had followed all this way.
“Go to Bethlehem and see” was the advice of the King’s wise men, the ones who knew the prophets promises, the words of hope regarding the future of the coming Messiah. “Go to Bethlehem and see.”
“Go,” but – “come back,” Herod demanded. “Come back and tell me so that I may go too.” We know the duplicity of Herod; we know that the travelers should beware.
But the travelers went, still following the star to the house where the child was.
They found the One they were searching for – they found the Baby. They offered their gifts, gifts which told more about the future of the Baby they found, more than they could imagine and hope for.
Perhaps they didn’t know it at the time, but they found the One who fulfilled their desires, the One who filled and broke their hearts, the one who made the journey worthwhile.
They found the true king, God made flesh in this child.
Who he would become, what he would teach, what end he would live to, what death he would die, and what future he would give for us all - they did not yet know those things. But they understood. Here, in this child, the creator of the world, the desire of their hearts and lives, lay before them, open, vulnerable, giving life and love without limit.
“Go back to that other king. Go back the way they had come, to Herod? Not on your life.” Even without the dream, they knew that the path back to Herod was the way of betrayal and death.
They were warned; they saw the danger. And they had discovered the Truth.
So they departed by another road.
They chose another way, a new life.
They unfolded a new map – where would it take them? They did not know. But they did know that the new road for them was the path of life.
A strange new road, but going somewhere.
We follow that same Star; its Light draws us too. With those strange, exotic seekers, we too come to Jesus.
We search for God’s forgiveness,
we yearn for reconciliation.
We hunger for hints of hope and the possibilities of faith.
We need healing and joy, justice and love.
– so we follow the star.
And then - the Gift is given: The light shines in our lives. We find the forgiveness and love of God.
We know: God is with us. We see the Love that moves the sun and all the stars.
The poet’s wise man speaks again:
“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 dispensations,
With an alien people clutching their gods…”
The wise travelers chose and followed another road. They were forever changed; they could not return to the old ways, their old world and their old lives. They had seen the King and knew the Love.
We too are offered the choice. Which road do you choose?
Will you leave this place today, this familiar place, this familiar life, and follow the new and different road, your life forever changed by the Birth in Bethlehem?
Will you follow and find the Cross, the mystery of Life in death; will you follow and find new life in Resurrection faith?
Will you set out on the journey with the wise men? Will you follow the star to -- you know not where?
Will you follow the light of the star, the light of the Love that moves the stars and all creation?
Have faith, have hope. The star is not a lie, the gifts are real, abundant, and of great value.
And know: each one of us, as we follow and find, will become an Epiphany of Grace, and -- in Jesus -- each of us will live a life of wonder, a life of beauty bright.