December 24, 2012

Christmas Poem, 2012: "The Return of the Magi"

Taking a cue from the final stanza of TS Eliot’s famous poem, “The Journey of the Magi,” I wrote my own counterpart ... wondering what it must have been like for these sorcerer/magicians to return to their pagan homelands after having witnessed the world (and life)-altering birth of the Messiah.

The first stanza begins below.  Click "read more" to continue with the whole thing.  Click here for audio.

With gifts unloaded, greetings said,
Bent on our knees beside His bed –
We stayed down low, who knows how long,
And licked the dust, where we belong.
It seemed a stone had rolled away,
With new born hearts, we longed to stay
And bask beside the splintered crib,
Without the glitter and the glib
Of home. How could we leave this Child
And re-traverse the deserts, wild,
And trav’ling home find all was gone
Of old lives we had left that dawn
With gold and incense in our hands
To set out from our pagan lands
To find a King?

A King we found,
In swaddling clothes, by custom bound;
But not bejeweled as we had thought;
And not with colors, flags, or haught –
But in a hovel, crude and low,
And with no entourage or show.
But kingly still, this Son of God –
One God, we found – not many. Odd
To our ears, stuffed with balls of cotton –
All Satan’s lies, low-hung and rotten.
Our superstitions, chants, and spells
Seemed broken now, like empty wells
Whose water never will return.
This King unlike the gods who spurn
Their worshippers with ears and eyes
That cannot speak or hear. What lies
We’ve heard and seen, and often told!
And how our past – and home – like mold,
Now soured to our taste.

No haste
Did we feel to wade back in, waist
Deep in the idols of the east,
Whose temples snare the great and least.
“Alien people clutching their gods”*  –
The world where we’d return, at odds
With what we’d seen beneath that star.
This birth – both His, and ours – did mar,
And put to death what we thought life;
And lance its boils with healing knife.
Birth and death, and healing and pain
All mixed, like sheep on Bethl’em’s plain.


Four weeks, one day, six hours we trekked
And over the last hill – bedecked
With gleaming shrines, banners unfurled –
The gleaming city (our old world)
Stood proud there in the evening sun:
Spoke into being by the One
Whose silent night we had enjoyed.
But here our neighbors were employed
With gaiety of ev’ry sort;
With feasts and dancing, love and sport –
Gifts of a God they did not know;
Good gifts! But melting like the snow
To those who bow and give their thanks
To gods built up with wooden planks;
Or greedy fingers, tightly curled –
Their gods, the pleasures of this world.

The gates stood open to the west,
The golden sun now, like the best
Delights of home, was growing dim,
Slow, setting on the distant rim
‘Tween earth and heav’n. The city’s fires
For ev’ning would soon light. Desires
For levity and food and song
Would then, behind those walls, last long
Into the night. The workweek done,
Men’s passions roused with setting sun.

We wished that we could dance and feast
To celebrate our return east;
And play our lutes, and shoot the flares,
And mix our newfound joy with theirs.
But something died that day beside
His crib — Not joy! Oh no, we cried
With mirth that day; and laughed, and leapt!
And ev’ry night before we slept
Under the open sky between
Bethl’em and home, we’d pray … then lean
Back on scuffed elbows, with closed eyes –
And flick’ring voices to the skies
Were raised, like candles in the night,
Our chanting fin’lly set to right:
“Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel
Has Come to thee, O Israel!”^
A new psalm, from once unclean lips;
A new dance, from once unclean hips.
Our love, and laugh, and song not lost
But gained! And yet, there was a cost.
These wineskins new, could no more hold
The gods and choruses of old.
His birth, the death of all we knew.


Returned, our wives and sons to woo
To our new King became our quest;
And though at home, to live as guest.

How can a man come ‘home’ again
When he’s been lanced, like boils, for sin –
But found life in a pauper King;
And learned, for Him, new songs to sing;
And seen in Him the face of God?
Can he slop back down through the sod
Where once he took his haughty stands,
And worshiped idols made with hands?
‘Twas no more home, this world of old
Once we had brought our myrrh and gold
And bowed in Bethl’em’s holy soil,
And had our stony hearts, with oil
Massaged, made sensitive, and new.
By birth – both His, and ours – a hue
Of diff’rent shade draped o’er sky,
And made us crave a home on high;
A death that would bring forth a birth,
And free us up for heav’nly mirth,
Where we might feast, and dance, and sing,
And never have to leave our King!

O, lonely, struggling pilgrim, hear –
And do not think it wrong or queer
If being born with Christ means pain,
Or never feeling ‘home’ again;
Or sensing that something has died –
It has! With Christ, you’re crucified!
Your home’s no longer in this world,
Its banners waving, flags unfurled;
Its dancing with no thought of Him
Who gives strength to both foot and limb;
It wars, vanity fairs, and strife.
Rejoice, this is not all your life!
But hidden up with God in Christ –
Whose blood only for sin sufficed –
There is a place to feast and sing
And never have to leave our King!

*From “The Journey of the Magi.” TS Eliot, 1927.
^From the traditional Latin hymn, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” Translated by John Neale and Henry Coffin.


Anonymous said...

Again, I am blessed by the gift given you by God and exercised by your faithfulness to Him! Thanks by to Him...and thank you for sharing this gift.
love to you and Toby and sweet kiddos! kathy strevel

Kurt Strassner said...

Thanks, Ms. Kathy! Happy New Year!