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‘A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.’

Thus wrote Eliot in his Journey of the MagiThe opening phrases come from a sermon by Lancelot Andrewes, who reminded us that it is the setting out on the journey which is easiest; but it takes stamina and courage, and sometimes sheer doggedness not to be discouraged. Unlike us, the Magi did not know what they were going to find, but being learned, they knew from their astrological calculations that the star portended the birth of a King. Like us, they were Gentiles – a sign that the new King, though of the line of David, would rule over all of God’s people, not just those under the Law of Moses. Like us, they had to have faith that He would be there when they got to the place above which the star stopped. They had left their comfortable lives and their palaces behind and endured many months of hard travelling.

Andrewes saw, in the star, a reference to that ‘day star’ which St Peter said rises in our hearts – and that is faith. It was faith which brought them on that long journey, just as it does us. And how shall we receive Him, save in the bread and wine which become for the faithful His Body and Blood?

The last lines of the poem speak of the changes which the journey wrought in the Magi:

We returned to our places, 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.

The ‘old Adam’ dies in us, and we become a new birth in Him. We, like the Magi, are changed by the journey of faith, by the journey we make in faith. It is, in the end, the journey itself which makes us His. It is the journey in His Grace which transforms us. Not, as we might wish, in a once-for all magic-like change, but rather in the slow, subtle ways a journey does. We learn from everything we experience on that journey, and if we take it in Him, then it will help us conform more closely to Him. It is in our nature to want haste, and to want to be there now – but that would defeat His purposes, and how should we be transformed from what we are to what we need to be without the journey?

We might well, being what we are, resent the journey, and its hardships, but if we accept them as we should, then they, too, add to what we gain in Him. As we approach the feast of the Nativity, let us perhaps reflect on where we are in our journey, and pledge to help each other as we continue.