Saturday, December 20, 2008

Lesson from the Magi or What the Dickens?

"[F]or it is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child himself..." - Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

As I get older, I find it more difficult to anticipate Christmas. When I was a child, the month preceding Christmas became interminably long. Time stretched and each day was four days long. December the 25th could never come. And even though I waited, and time slowed in the waiting, Christmas had a nearness because it was always on my mind.

And then some time ago-I wish I knew the day, though I believe it happened gradually-Christmas didn't seem as far away as it used to be. It became the event after finals, or the reason for the long weekend, or even the day that I didn't have to work the next week. I suppose I put it off to focus on eliminating the mundane and the pressing, figuring I would come back when I had some unadulterated time to devote to reflection and anticipation. And somehow Christmas arrived more quickly than when I was a child, but only like a destination arrives more quickly to the one who sleeps through the journey.

The Christmas story speaks of the Magi who arrived bearing gifts from East, who read the signs and understood that the new star blazing in the heavens signified the birth of a new king. Theirs is the story of those who anticipate Christmas. Some have suggested that they may have been the spiritual offspring of Daniel, the prophet that received the vision of the time of the Messiah's arrival, which would place the beginning of their anticipation in the time of the Babylonian capitivity. Regardless, they correctly read the signs and embarked on a four-year journey to pay homage to the child.

I remember over ten years ago when the Wise Men took on particular importance for me in recapturing the anticipation I had as a child. Not that I solved their mystery, or fully realized how to truly anticipate Christmas, but I began to see them as an archetype for those who would look forward to Christmas Day. Since that time, they have come to my mind each Christmas, the symbol of those who await the arrival of Christmas Day.

Even in typing I can't help but feel that I've still been missing the point all these years, that by focusing on the Magi, I've made the means the end. Just as the star pointed the Wise Men to the house of the child, so too the Wise Men point the way to something greater than Solomon: a child that gives to those who would receive Him the right to become children of God, a king whose kingdom can only be received by children. And so it is as Charles Dickens wrote in his tale of one soul's redemption, "[I]t is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child himself..."