Advent

Epiphany: a story

Melchior, Balthazar, and Caspar

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(Picture from The Life of Jesus, painted by Paul Forsey)

It was a black night. Nothing lit our Eastern sky, nothing. The tiny pinpricks of starry light were almost blotted out by the inky darkness.

Nevertheless, our team was out there on the dunes, peering into our telescopes, occasionally lighting a small candle to jot notes and diagrams onto our parchments.

It was a still night, which was a good thing. Sand grit can be a problem if it’s blown into our equipment and ink. Caspar was sitting in the middle of a huge groundsheet, gazing across to the horizon. It was so quiet that, even though I had my back to him, I heard it when he stopped breathing. He wasn’t dead, just dead surprised.

I turned and said, “Cas?” and then looked where I thought he was looking.

I answered his unspoken question. “I think it is.”

“I’m going to make a light” he said, “you get Melchior.”

I set out over the dunes. With no illumination I stumbled along. Once I turned to look behind me and saw Caspar’s small candle. But behind him was a rising glow from near the horizon. I finally found Mel; actually I stumbled onto him. He cursed as I landed on him, causing his ‘scope to drop to the ground.

“Look” I said, and standing close behind him with my arm alongside his head, I pointed to the west. He moved slightly to follow my direction. “Yes…” he murmured.

“Are you thinking what I’m thinking” I asked.

“I think I am, Balthazar!” he replied, and I heard the twinkle in his eyes.

We ran then, back to Caspar, who had been consulting the charts. He was fairly jumping out of his skin! And that’s not bad for an eighty year old astronomer.

This was the beginning of our journey westward. That little star, rising up into our world, had been predicted for centuries. But not as headline news in the Astronomers Of The East Gazette. No. It was hidden in the historical parchments of our discipline, to be discovered through intense cross referencing and study. A group of us were hoping and waiting for its appearance in our lifetime. And here it was!

The following days were a buzz of preparations and talking. Our colleagues agreed that Mel, Caspar and I should be the ones to meet the promised King. The King born somewhere to the west of us. The King whose star we had seen rising in the darkness.

And this King would be worshipped with gifts.

So a committee was formed to find appropriate gifts. The gift registrars. They consulted the astronomical charts too, for clues. Each gift would be fraught with meaning. Finally they came on the night before we were to set out. Three packages were presented to us.

“This one is the only gift we could give to a new King” they said. “It is the ultimate symbol of power and majesty.” Caspar stood beside me and whispered breathlessly “Gold!”

“This one” another registrar said, holding up a small box, “was a tricky one. Something in our research suggested this new King is also Godly. So in this box is the very precious frankincense.” He handed it to Melchior.

A third registrar stepped forward.

“Finally, our last gift.” A few of the other members of the committee shuffled uneasily and looked down, as if they weren’t too sure about this choice of a gift.

“Myrrh.” And it was offered to me.

An explanation was called for. The registrar continued. “It’s traditionally used as an embalming agent. The committee thought it appropriate as all kings eventually die, and this new King will deserve the very best of burials. Although” he added,

“this King is a God, so it should not be necessary. However, on the off chance…..” He was now clearly out of his depth so I stepped forward and took the package from him. He looked glad to be rid of it.

The journey continued. The next morning we were assisted onto our camels and the whole assembly of astronomers were there to see us off.

Our College president handed us the scrolls containing copies of the prophesies of the Hebrew Daniel, concerning the King we were seeking. And so we left our home in the East.

It was together boring and exhilarating to be travelling.

At night we pitched our tent, found our telescopes and studied the sky as we had always done. But we hardly needed the telescope to see that Star; it became larger and brighter every night. It was our signpost, our route map, our light for our path.

During the days I reread Daniel’s prophesy. He was an alien in our country, captured over 500 years ago and brought to Babylon as booty.

He wrote about his God and a plan to bring a saving Christ into the world. The ‘Son of Man coming from heaven’.

When we reached the region of Palestine we made our way straight to the city of Jerusalem. I was glad to stop there. Beyond this country was the Mare Nostrum sea and I didn’t like sailing much. I preferred the ships of the desert – camels, and the waves of bare sand.

At the palace the guards brought us before the ruler King Herod. He listened to the reason for our coming, and looked puzzled. “No new kings here!” he blustered.

“A new born King, a baby perhaps?” I suggested.

Now he looked positively scary. “No newborns around here!! “

Melchior offered another idea, “we believe him to be the king of the Jews.”

“What?!!” roared Herod. “I am the king of the Jews!”

And then “Send for my advisors, and those magicians I have!”

They came, and they confirmed what we had said. In the town of Bethlehem the Christ would be born.

Now Herod ordered us out of the room while he conferred with his advisors.

We sat in a tiny anteroom, cooling our heels. “I don’t like that man much,” said Caspar, “can’t we just go over to that town and check it out for ourselves?”

But then the door opened and we were called back in.

Herod’s plan went like this:

We were to go to Bethlehem, find the baby King, and then return to Herod and give him the precise location.

It was something about the way his moustache twitched when he spoke that made me wonder. His whole demeanour had changed since before, but that moustache was twitching! I didn’t trust him.

Well, we found Bethlehem, and we found the King. Our star continued to lead us until it stopped over an ordinary-looking house in a plain old street. No palace, no royal crib, no red carpet.

We felt a tiny bit overdressed for the occasion, and the gifts we brought seemed a tad too grand for such an ordinary child, but we knelt before him. His parents didn’t blink. It was as if they knew His importance, as if they understood Who he really was.

I bowed deeply.

I offered the jar of myrrh to the child’s mother.

In my heart I felt some flutter of recognition as I gazed upon the small boy sitting on his mother’s knee.

The star had brought me to Him. He was the end of my journey.

Hetty Stok,

Epiphany, 2019

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Past Advent Poems 11- 16

What Lord?

So You Think …

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The Shepherds – A Narrative

 

The Inn Keeper – Correcting the Record.

The Magi

Immanuel

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Zechariah

Zechariah

(Luke 1)

 

So it was our clan’s turn

And the dice rolled in my favour.

Beth will be happy.

The old dear has always been  proud

When I get my day in the temple.

 

With people praying outside

I was inside and about to light the incense

 

And then …

And then …

You wouldn’t believe it …

Next to the altar of incense …

You wouldn’t believe it …

We hadn’t seen one in hundreds of years.

An angel!

AN ANGEL!

Nearly scared the life out of me!

 

“Don’t be afraid,”  he said.

Easy for him to say!

Then he goes on,

Beth, the old girl, will have a son.

Beth!

At her age!

“Call him John,” he said.

Not even a family name.

He was to grow up like a Nazirite

– So no alcohol.

And he will turn people back to God.

How can this be? I said.

 

And then I said no more.

I couldn’t. I couldn’t talk.

This angel Gabriel,

As called himself,

Struck me dumb.

Until now as I hold John

In my arms.

And I can praise God!

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Waiting – an Advent poem

Waiting

Waiting is hardChartres Blessing

Fingers twiddling

Feet tapping restlessly

Mind wandering

Head scratching

Watch looking

Pacing.

 

But

Advent is not just

waiting

But expecting

Looking forward

Anticipating

.. even more, longing

 

For the Messiah

The Christ

The Saviour

 

Waiting

… and now

For His return.

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Reprise: Advent Poem

Today’s poem is not a poem by a famous poet but one of mine from last year.

And I will put enmity
    between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
    and you will strike his heel.’

Gen 3:15

sunrise new

 

The first morning glimmer
of light
tells us the sun is coming:
A new day
A new hope
And eternal possibilities.

The dawn light
is a daily
covenant promise
that the son is coming:
who with a bruised heel
would crush
the enemy’s head
forever.

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Advent Poems

That Holy Thing

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From the walls of the Keldby Church, Mons, Denmark

George MacDonald (1824-1905)

They all were looking for a king
To slay their foes, and lift them high:
Thou cam’st a little baby thing
That made a woman cry.O son of man, to right my lot
Nought but thy presence can avail;
Yet on the road thy wheels are not,
Nor on the sea thy sail!

My fancied ways why shouldst thou heed?
Thou com’st down thine own secret stair:
Com’st down to answer all my need,
Yea, every bygone prayer!

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Advent Poems

In this Advent poem the Australian poet, Henry Lawson, connects the first and second Advents and links it with the need for social justice.   You may not necessarily agree with his theology.

In the StreetMary

Where the needle-woman toils
Through the night with hand and brain,
Till the sickly daylight shudders like a spectre at the pain –
Till her eyes seem to crawl,
And her brain seems to creep –

And her limbs are all a-tremble for the want of rest and sleep!
It is there the fire-brand blazes in my blood; and it is there
That I see the crimson banner of the Children of Despair!
That I feel the soul and music in a rebel’s battle song,
And the greatest love for justice and the hottest hate for wrong!

When the foremost in his greed
Presses heavy on the last –
In the brutal spirit rising from the grave-yard of the past –
Where the poor are trodden down
And the rich are deaf and blind!

It is there I feel the greatest love and pity for mankind:
There – where heart to heart is saying, though the tongue and lip be still:
We’ve been through it all and know it! brother, we’ve been through the mill!
There the spirits of my brothers rise the higher for defeat,
And the drums of revolution roll for ever in the street!

Christ is coming once again,
And his day is drawing near;
He is leading on the thousands of the army of the rear!
We shall know the second advent
By the lower skies aflame

With the signals of his coming, for he comes not as he came –
Not humble, meek, and lowly, as he came in days of old,
But with hatred, retribution for the worshippers of gold!
And the roll of battle music and the steady tramp of feet
Sound for ever in the thunder and the rattle of the street!

Henry Lawson 1894
(Source: http://www.ironbarkresources.com/henrylawson/InTheStreet.html
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Advent Poems

Here is poem by Sir John Betjeman from about half a century ago.  Its message is still relevant today on a variety of levels.

We still need to ask the question, “How, in fact, do we prepare …?”

Advent 1955
By John Betjeman

The Advent wind begins to stirWise man
With sea-like sounds in our Scotch fir,
It’s dark at breakfast, dark at tea,
And in between we only see
Clouds hurrying across the sky
And rain-wet roads the wind blows dry
And branches bending to the gale
Against great skies all silver pale
The world seems travelling into space,
And travelling at a faster pace
Than in the leisured summer weather
When we and it sit out together,
For now we feel the world spin round
On some momentous journey bound –
Journey to what? to whom? to where?
The Advent bells call out ‘Prepare,
Your world is journeying to the birth
Of God made Man for us on earth.’
And how, in fact, do we prepare
The great day that waits us there –
For the twenty-fifth day of December,
The birth of Christ? For some it means
An interchange of hunting scenes
On coloured cards, And I remember
Last year I sent out twenty yards,
Laid end to end, of Christmas cards
To people that I scarcely know –
They’d sent a card to me, and so
I had to send one back. Oh dear!
Is this a form of Christmas cheer?
Or is it, which is less surprising,
My pride gone in for advertising?
The only cards that really count
Are that extremely small amount
From real friends who keep in touch
And are not rich but love us much
Some ways indeed are very odd
By which we hail the birth of God.
We raise the price of things in shops,
We give plain boxes fancy tops
And lines which traders cannot sell
Thus parcell’d go extremely well
We dole out bribes we call a present
To those to whom we must be pleasant
For business reasons. Our defence is
These bribes are charged against expenses
And bring relief in Income Tax
Enough of these unworthy cracks!
‘The time draws near the birth of Christ’.
A present that cannot be priced
Given two thousand years ago
Yet if God had not given so
He still would be a distant stranger
And not the Baby in the manger.

Source: Collected Poems by John Betjeman.
London: John Murray; New Edition, 2003.
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Advent Poems

In recent years I turned my hand to Advent poems. This year I thought I would remember classics from the past. My first comes from Christina Rossetti.

ADVENT: “COME,” THOU DOST SAY TO ANGELS

Stained Glass Window Cologne Cathedral

Stained Glass Window Cologne Cathedral

“Come,” thou dost say to Angels,
To blessed Spirits, “Come”;
“Come,” to the Lambs of Thine Own flock,
Thy little Ones, “Come home.”

“Come,” from the many-mansioned house
The gracious word is sent,
“Come,” from the ivory palaces
Unto the Penitent.

O Lord, restore us deaf and blind,
Unclose our lips tho’ dumb;
Then say to us, I come with speed,
And we will answer, Come.

ROSSETTI, CHRISTINA (2012-09-30). Delphi Complete Poetical Works of Christina Rossetti (Illustrated) (Delphi Poets Series Book 12)  Delphi Classics. Kindle Edition.
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Another Christmas Poem From The Past – The Shepherds

The Shepherds – a narrative

It was like any other night in winter.
We were alert.
The predators are always hungry in these months.
Lamb is always on their menu.
The cold, froze our words.
We were shivering
and then
we were still shivering
but now in fear.
Out of nowhere, 
well, the sky really,
this amazing light shone.
Day, in the middle of the night!
Shivering, trembling, cowering.
Paralysed.
Nothing to hide behind –
except sheep.
Even Big Jacob was jelly!
 
The bright being declared,
“Don’t be afraid,
I’ve come to give you news
of the Christ – the Messiah.”
 
It’s a baby!
In Bethlehem! 
 
So we bolted for Bethlehem,
The sheep could look after themselves,
for a while.
This news was too good to miss!
 
We found a mum, dad and baby,
by a feed trough,
and somehow,
as the mum, Mary
showed the baby to us,
we just knew, what the angel said was true.
She held God in her hands!
And our lives, and the world,
Would never be the same
again.
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