I have been rereading T. S. Eliot's poem "Journey of the Magi," which describes in beautiful imagery what it might have been like for those three wise men of the East as they journeyed to Bethlehem.
Their guidance was a star, which they felt would lead them to a historic birth. I had never given much thought to what it must have required of those men to retain their vision and follow that star. And I was reminded that Christmas celebrations can demand of us a wholesome self-sacrifice that deepens our understanding and appreciation of the Christmas message.
We may not ride "galled, sore-footed, refractory" camels or deal with grumbling "camel men," as Mr. Eliot's poem depicts. But the holiday season can present similar physical and dispositional challenges. What will keep us journeying on? May it not be that we are following a Christmas-inspired star of hope, shining in thought - a star that will lead us from a merely comfortable and enjoyable tradition to a more satisfying and healing experience?
When our daughter, our first child, was quite small, we went as usual to my parents' for Christmas. She was playing with her older cousins when she began to cry, saying "I want my mother." As I took her in my arms, I realized her body was abnormally warm. She looked directly at me and continued to cry "I want my mother." This frightened me, and I took her into another room where we could be quiet.
As I rocked her, I prayed. And I realized more deeply that the birth of Jesus, which Christmas celebrates, represents a higher understanding of the fatherhood and motherhood of God. The humble manger spoke to my heart with a needed lesson. You see, I was an older mother who had enjoyed a business career for a decade. My mother and sister were devoting their entire lives to homemaking and child-rearing. I needed to learn from them. But the attention I'd enjoyed in my career didn't exactly make me receptive to their help. I remember my dad saying disgustedly, "I guess you're not going to let your mother tell you anything."
Now, the humbleness of the circumstances of Jesus' birth spoke to me. Prideful feelings of both business accomplishments and parenthood were washing away. And I could feel the fever draining from the child in my arms as I gave up my resistance to asking for help.
She slept peacefully. Each of us was being healed, and no doubt the quickness of both healings related to the power of Christmas. Millions were celebrating the humble birth of Jesus and many were reflecting on the adult Jesus' healing ministry. One might call it a spiritually-charged atmosphere.
Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered Christian Science, wrote of the power of humility that enabled her to better understand Jesus' birth and life experience: "My heart bent low before the omnipotence of Spirit, and a tint of humility, soft as the heart of a moonbeam, mantled the earth. Bethlehem and Bethany, Gethsemane and Calvary, spoke to my chastened sense as by the tearful lips of a babe. Frozen fountains were unsealed. Erudite systems of philosophy and religion melted, for Love unveiled the healing promise and potency of a present spiritual afflatus" ("Retrospection and Introspection," Pg. 31).
These waymarks in the life of Christ Jesus - his birth in Bethlehem, his raising of Lazarus from the dead in Bethany, his struggles in Gethsemane, where he yielded to his crucifixion on Calvary - speak to us today, as we humbly reach for the deeper meaning of Christmas.
As we hang the holly this year and prepare gifts for our loved ones, and also as we prepare our hearts to receive their gifts to us, we are not merely celebrating an ancient occurrence. Today, even those whose religious practice or lifestyle does not include the honoring of Jesus' birth usually do not remain untouched by this Christian celebration. May that touch be one of love!
In the poem quoted at the beginning of this article, one of the wise men says, after recounting the hardships of the trip, "All this was a long time ago, I remember,/ And I would do it again,..." Our figurative journey to Bethlehem occurs every year. Despite what may appear as hardships, the promise of Love's presence, with its healing power, is being fulfilled.