Epiphany: Quote, Poem, Picture.

Three things before this Epiphany slips away into just another day:

1. A Quote:

Imagine this as written by a Wise Man, a Magi from the West, who travelled far seeking the Christ. And found him. (It’s dense so you might have to read it slowly).

“It is not, of course, merely on different incidents recorded in the Gospels, or on various statements about Christ logically analysed and strung together from different books in the New Testament, that our belief in the Deity of Christ rests, but upon the whole manifestation of ‘the Christ-event’ as soteriologically proclaimed and interpreted in the gospels and epistles. We rely upon the whole coherent evangelical structure of historical divine revelation given in the New Testament Scriptures. It is when we indwell it, meditate upon it, tune into it, penetrate inside it and absorb it in ourselves, and find the very foundations of our life and thought changing under the creative and saving impact of Christ, and are saved by Christ and personally reconciled to God in Christ, that we believe in him as Lord and God. This does not come about, however, without renouncing ourselves in a repentant rethinking of all that we are and claim to know, that is, without our being crucified with Christ in heart and mind and raised to new life in him. This is poignantly indicated in what St Paul wrote to the Philippians in expressing his desire to know Christ and ‘the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings in growing conformity to his death,’ which involved a radical renunciation and forgetting of what he already claimed to know in order to lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus had already laid hold of him. Recognition that Jesus is Lord or belief in the Deity of Christ comes only with a painful reorganisation and transformation of our consciousness before God, and with a participation in the new world of thought and behaviour brought about by Christ, for it is only through Christ and in him that we may know him and through being united to him in God that we learn that the very fullness of God dwells in him. Hence like the early Christians we pray to Jesus as Lord, adore him and worship him, and sing praises to him as God, and not only through him to God.” (T. F. Torrance, The Christian Doctrine of God, 53)

The journey to worship the Christ is not short or easy. We cannot be the same at the end as we were at the beginning, it is a journey through death in hope of the resurrection. We must be rethought, and we haven’t the stamina or the concepts to even begin this rethinking. But he has taken hold of us.

T. S. Eliot captures it well:

2. A Poem:

Journey of the Magi

You can listen to an audio recording of Alec Guinness reading it here)

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 arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may 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 lead all that way for
Birth or Death?
There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt.

I have 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, Journey of the Magi

(h/t Frances)

3. A Picture:

The Adoration of the Magi by Pieter Bruegel

The scene so crowded, but no shepherds. The only animal is a donkey who has been forced into dark obscurity, like the future of the child. Is it braying in fear? So many soldiers, so many points in the top left corner, waiting to pierce. A crossbowman with a bolt in his hat. The soldiers are the only figures who look excited. Are they standing around waiting to kill the boy children of Israel? Why don’t they pounce on this little one? Joseph doesn’t appear ready to stop them, what secret is being whispered in his ear?

But it is the ugliness of the Kings that no one who sees this painting ever forgets. Old, tired faces even though the clothes and the gifts are obviously rich. These are Kings who in their journey have been rethought in the light of Christ, whose grandeur and radiance has been stripped back and the weakness of flesh exposed. This is no lordly humanity graciously welcoming a divine visitation. No Christmas card epiphany. Not the revelation of the divine to searching humanity, but the revelation of humanity to the searchingly divine.

Perhaps they were lords when they set out after the star, but at the foot of their destination the pomp and pride has withered from their cheeks. Thus the gospel comes to the nations, to the spent and exhausted.

But they are not alone in their weariness. Look at the old face of the Christ child. In the centre of space and time, crowded around and under threat, in the sight of the nations, God takes tired flesh to be his own, to be his own body, to love and to kill.

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