Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Their Own Country

Cross-posted on the Confirm not Conform blog.

I had an epiphany a couple of days ago.

I have heard many a sermon on the magi that talked about how they traveled home by a different road. But this year, it was the snippet of a phrase immediately before that that caught my attention: “they left for their own country.”

It reminded me of a sermon I heard many, many years ago, probably when I was a teenager myself. I even remember the title: “The three unwise men.” And the argument made by the preacher was, “It’s all well and good that they came to worship Jesus, but why didn’t they stick around?” Thinking about it now, that seemed to be a pointed jab at the Christmas and Easter crowd for Not Faithfully Attending, but I remember being annoyed at the time on behalf of the wise men who had made the effort to travel a very long way. After all, the chief priests and scribes who told the magi where the child would be born were in a town just a few miles away. Why weren’t they there?

But that’s not the epiphany. The epiphany was this: people live in different countries. Metaphorically speaking, I mean. And believe me when I say I think our church can do a heck of a lot better job keeping people involved and included – people for whom our churches are their native land.

But I think a lot of us are like that preacher long ago: we believe that to be truly faithful, you need to stay in our country. Never mind how far you have traveled. Never mind what efforts you have made. If you don’t stay with us, then clearly you are not truly faithful. And all our efforts are spent on making sure you stay in our country, our denomination, our worship services, our programs.

Maybe this year we need to do some more traveling. Maybe this year, we need to visit their countries – not to change people, not to convince them, not to draw them back, but simply to visit, to bring gifts, to rejoice, to pay homage, and to return to our own country, transformed by the God who leads us home.


Anonymous said...

I can not read this post without also thinking about T. S. Eliot's poem about the magi and their journey there and back. I don't know what it means, but I love it anyway.

You can read it below, or listen to Eliot read it aloud himself at The Poetry Archive, whose site is here:


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 was 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 gong 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.

LKT said...

It's always good to see this poem.