In T. S. Eliot’s Christmas poem Journey of the Magi, the line, ‘A hard time we had of it’, spoken by one of the Magi, describes their terrible journey to meet the Christ child. This poem can now be read and understood not just in the two ways Eliot intended, but also in a third way.
Firstly, the poem can be read as an account of the Magi travelling to find and see the Christ-child, the many difficulties they encounter, and the enduring effect of their journey and experience upon them. The second understanding is the extended metaphor of Eliot’s own life experience of coming to faith and conversion to Christianity.
The new and third interpretation we might put upon the poem is that of our own experience, individually, nationally and globally of this year and the difficulty of the journey to Christmas. For the Magi, for Eliot, and so too, for ourselves; difficulties overcome and accepted, we have come to give our thanks, praise and homage to the Christ child, the Infant King, our Lord and Saviour who is the hope of all peoples and the joy of the world.
In spite of these dark days of the coronavirus pandemic and the difficulties we have had to face during these past months, on the journey to this Christmas, we are still able to celebrate, with joy, the gift of the Son of God born among us, who takes upon himself the pain and sorrows of humanity, and overwhelms them with his compassion and love, adding too those gifts of peace and joy.
‘ … were we led all that way for
Birth or Death?’,
the Magi asks - and then answers:
‘There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt.
I had seen birth and death,
But thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like death, our death.’
Despite the difficulties of the journey and the restrictions on our festivities with those who are most dear to us, we are still able to celebrate, in the witness of sharing with others, the hope in our hearts.
The humble telling of that hope brings the Christ-child to be born in their lives
-so also when we serve with love and compassion we bring the sacrifice of the suffering Christ in whose death there is eternal life.
I wish you and your families a holy and very happy Christmas even though beset with challenges and difficulties.
May this time of our Saviour’s birth be for you one of health, peace, joy, and thanksgiving; for Jesus Christ is the one who gives the light for us to journey through the darkness of this world, bringing us to the place and joy of His humble birth and into the glory of the Father’s eternal kingdom.
Journey of the Magi can be read on https://poetryarchive.org/poem/journey-magi/ and heard being read by Sir Alec Guinness https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vlEQYueIQJU
In the Celebrating section of the Godwhospeaks website you will find a short family service ‘At the Manger’ for each of the days of the Christmas Octave at home, beginning with the blessing of the Crib. https://www.godwhospeaks.uk/the-god-who-speaks/focus/advent-christmastide/at-the-manger-family-celebrations-for-the-eight-days-of-christmas/