Monday, December 28, 2009

T. S. Eliot wrote a poem about the journey of the Magi from the perspective of one the travelers. It describes the physical peril they faced but it clearly describes the testing and strengthening of their faith along the way. T.S. Eliot was on his own spiritual journey and had become a Christian. This was a man with a strong Buddhist and Hindu philosophical education.

Symbolism litters the poem and the imagery should remind us of Biblical references. The three trees that are mentioned represent Calvary and Jesus’ death on a cross. The white horse represents death. And with the tree, or cross of Calvary, death is sent galloping away. The vine leaves over the lintel represent the blood of the Passover lamb on the doorposts of as they escaped the angel of death. The vine represents Jesus, the true vine.

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, 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.

I would love to hear what you think of the poem. What other symbolism you find and what it means to you.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Mary: Full of Grace

Last night I was given the honor of preaching to a group of people gathered at our church plant, In Process. My message centered on the message of Joy. I am not sure if it was the sermon of the century, truthfully I seriously doubt it. But it has made me stop in retrospect to contemplate the season of Advent.

The first week of Advent we listened to a message concerning Hope. And that despite the situation we may find ourselves in God hears His peoples’ cries. The problem is it requires us to wait on God. It is centered on God’s timing. I am not upset about the waiting, but I am thankful that God is listening and He will respond.

The second week of Advent we listened to a message concerning Peace. And that to truly know Peace, or Shalom requires a Divine Presence. Men and women throughout the scriptures sent by God with that special something, maybe the Spirit, answering God’s calling. They were the ones that brought Peace.

And that on some special day that no ones when exactly, a baby came into existence. This baby was the Divine and this baby was humanity. This baby came to save the world. The heavens opened and angels appeared to a group of hardworking migrant workers declaring, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

Last night I spoke on Joy. For me a real joy comes with a smile and laughter. Real joy can bring a tear to our eye. Real joy changes the way we move, the way we walk or run, and even puts a skip in our step. Real joy causes us to sing and rejoice, remember the angels rejoicing to the shepherds? And real joy should make us dance. King David cries out to God, and when God responds David with a song and a dance (Psalm 5).

And I spoke on Mary and her virginal conception. How did it all happen? It is part of the mystery of a God bigger than me. I pray no one will ever be able to explain it. But what was Mary’s life after the birth of her son?

Did Mary ever get to experience Peace or Joy?

This baby boy represents the Hope people had been crying out for since the Fall of Adam and Eve. God promised that One would come. The angels rejoiced that Peace would now be on earth. God had come to save us.

Did Mary ever get to experience Peace or Joy?

When the angel Gabriel visits Mary and explains God’s plans to her Gabriel calls her “highly favored” or “full of grace.” I contemplated why Mary was given this title or new name. Maybe it was not because of something she did but because of something she was going to have to endure.

Poor Mary, I am sure, suffered ridicule. Everyone in her small village knew about her condition. They knew about this baby, conceived and born out of wedlock. But she loved this baby boy as any mother would.

And the toughest situation in Mary’s life was when she was an eye witness to the execution of her son. She was there as he breathed his last breathe. And as they laid his body to rest, she mourned as any mother would.

So, did Mary ever get to experience Peace or Joy? Truly this was a grace filled woman.