In his poem Journey of the Magi, T.S. Eliot imagines the reminiscent thoughts of one of the Magi who journeyed from afar to witness the birth of Christ. Using the voice of a pagan king, Elliot portrays the weight in the soul of one who has truly confronted Christ, the king. The poem powerfully concludes:
“Birth or Death? There was a birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt I had 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 palaces, 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.”
Coming in contact with the Christ, proclaims Eliot, setting one’s eyes on the child who was born to die is in a very real sense like dying ourselves. Though the poem seems to strike a somber note, it is the very note echoed triumphantly throughout New Testament Scripture. The apostle Paul readily utilized the words and imagery of death to describe life in Christ. “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” Jesus uttered similarly, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”(1)
In the season of Advent, Christians profess to be a people watching and waiting, remembering and anticipating with those who first watched God step into the world through the mean estate of a dirty stable. We remember those who first set their eyes on the child who was born to die, becoming, in a sense, as Christ was on that first night, homeless and out of place. We remember, too, that we ourselves are far from home, longing for a kingdom we know in part. For having embraced the person of Christ, the Christian proclaims the reality of his kingdom and find herself as Eliot describes, “no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation, with an alien people clutching their gods.” The message of Advent awakens this sense of homelessness, stirs a longing for home, and reminds a dark world that we are waiting for the return of the king.
In one of the most comforting conversations between Jesus and the disciples, Jesus gives a description of this home and the certainty of an invitation inside. “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going” (John 14:2-4). Compounding this hope, his words are followed by one of his most quoted promises. As Thomas replied, “But Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus answered: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”
Christ is the herald of our homelessness and the harbinger of our home, even as he proclaims this very kingdom among us and himself as the way inside. As G.K. Chesterton once penned,
“For men are homesick in their homes,
and strangers under the sun…
but our homes are under miraculous skies
where the Yule tale was begun.”
The story of Christ’s birth is a certain message of hope and home. He who took on the fullness of humanity became homeless that we might come home. He proclaims a kingdom among us and continues to prepare us a place within it. Let every heart prepare him room.
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) cf. Galatians 2:20, Matthew 10:39.