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 king far from home, Eliot portrays the weight in the soul of one who has confronted the human Christ, the king who points us home. 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 like dying ourselves, in a sense, and forever changing our sense of ‘home.’ Though the poem seems to strike a somber note, it is a very note echoed triumphantly throughout New Testament Scripture. The apostle Paul readily utilized the words and imagery of death to describe life in Christ, the interplay of both home and homelessness. “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—in hope, in lament, in need—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 that we, too, are far from home, longing for a home we know in part. Having truly seen the person of Christ, the Christian sees all the more clearly the reality of a world in need of justice, reconciliation, mercy, and healing. And we are, as Eliot describes, “no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation, with an alien people clutching their gods.” The message of Advent awakens a sense that we are both near and far from home, reminding a dark world that a light has indeed been born in our midst, reminding a broken world that we are waiting for the return of this one who shows us what it means to be truly human and whole again.
In one of the most comforting conversations between Jesus and the disciples, Jesus gives a description of this place, which we have seen in part, and he assures us of an invitation to be fully 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.”(2) 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.”
We find in Christ himself the curious interplay of home and homelessness. This one who so loved creation that he joins us within it is not only the herald of our homelessness but the harbinger of our home. He curiously proclaims this very kingdom among us and he mercifully offers himself as the way inside. Thus, G.K. Chesterton describes our own mysterious place of being both near and far from home:
“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—with the much needed room for lament over all that is presently missing and the desperately needed foretastes of a table where we will one day come together in healed communion with ourselves, our neighbors, and God. He who took on the fullness of humanity became homeless that we might come fully home. He curiously proclaims a kingdom at home among us and mercifully continues to prepare us for 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.
(2) John 14:2-4.