The Feast of the Epiphany falls on the 6th of January but as many churches will keep the feast this Sunday, the 3rd, I am posting this a little early, and in addition to the recordings from my Advent anthology Waiting on the Word which I have been posting each day.
Epiphany celebrates the arrival of the three wise men at the manger in Bethlehem has a special mystery and joy to it. Until now the story of the coming Messiah has been confined to Israel, the covenant people, but here suddenly, mysteriously, are three Gentiles who have intuited that his birth is good new for them too. Here is an Epiphany, a revelation, that the birth of Christ is not one small step for a local religion but a great leap for all mankind. I love the way that traditionally the three wise men (or kings) are shown as representing the different races and cultures and languages of the world. I love the combination in their character of diligence and joy. They ‘seek diligently’, but they ‘rejoice with exceeding great joy’! I love the way they loved and followed a star, but didn’t stop at the star, but rather let the star lead them to something beyond itself. Surely that is a pattern for all wise contemplation of nature whether in art or science.
One can return constantly to the mystery of the Epiphany and always find more but here is a little sonnet which particularly focuses on the way their arrival on the scene suddenly includes us as Gentiles into what has been, up to this point an exclusively Jewish story. The last line of this poem is a little nod in the direction of Tennyson’s great poem Ulysses
As always you can hear the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button if it appears, or by clicking on the title of the poem which will take you to the audioboo page.
It might have been just someone else’s story,
Some chosen people get a special king.
We leave them to their own peculiar glory,
We don’t belong, it doesn’t mean a thing.
But when these three arrive they bring us with them,
Gentiles like us, their wisdom might be ours;
A steady step that finds an inner rhythm,
A pilgrim’s eye that sees beyond the stars.
They did not know his name but still they sought him,
They came from otherwhere but still they found;
In temples they found those who sold and bought him,
But in the filthy stable, hallowed ground.
Their courage gives our questing hearts a voice
To seek, to find, to worship, to rejoice.
Now the Feast of the Epiphany is both the end of Christmas and the beginning of the Church’s Epiphany Season which she keeps until the Feast of the Presentation (or Candlemas), on February 2nd. On the Sundays of this Epiphany season it is traditional to move from the this first great ‘epiphany’ or manifestation of glory to the Gentiles, to contemplate the other ‘epiphanies’ that mark the beginning of Christ’s Ministry; the Heaven’s opening at his baptism, the Calling of his disciples, especially the ‘epiphany moment’ granted to Nathanael, and promised to all of us, and then finally the first of his miracles, his ‘signs whereby he manifested his glory’; the Miracle at Cana in Galilee.
So the Sonnet I have given above is the first in a sequence of Epiphany Sonnets, drawn from my book Sounding the Seasons, which is available from Amazon etc or by order from your local bookshop, should you be lucky enough to have one. I shall post the others in time for the various Sundays of Epiphany. The image below is courtesy of Margot Krebs Neal
9 responses to “A Sonnet for Epiphany”
I have come to understand more recently that in fact, we rather assume that the Wise Men or Magi numbered three because three gifts are mentioned but this is not certain.
Have really been enjoying your advent anthology so thanks for quite an imaginative and spiritual end to 2015. Now gearing up for the Feast of the Kings here in Spain. Festivities are not over here until the 6 th.
Malcom I love your work and I love most of your epiphany sonnet, but why do you presume that thewise men appear in the stable? It is clear from scripture that they came some time after the birth…judging by the action of Herod, anytme up to two,years after. By this time mother and child were in a house…Joseph was out working as although he appears in the account of the visit from the shepherds he is not mentioned as being present at the visit of the wisemen. I always assumed that is why we celebrate their arrival at a later time. Blessings Carole
They certainly arrived later how much later we don’t know nor do we know how many of them there were. But my sonnet is addressed to people inhabiting the traditional
Narrative in the traditional way mediated as it is not only by scripture but by an entire culture by centuries of paintings nativity scenes and plays. That visitor narrative that people have in their hearts and I am addressing the hearts of the people not the heads of scholars. Hope that helps
It need not be history to be meaningful or true. That it is poetic story, or narrative, is instructive enough. The parables never actually happened, but as insightful and educational stories, they served a high, enduring, and enlightening purpose — much like this sonnet.
I “discovered” you through Kindlingfest podcasts and am now to be numbered in your “fan base”!! Your writings and recordings are a source of joy and wisdom – thank you !
I live in Laguna Beach, CA, and go to a wonderful, small church, Little Church by the Sea”. An open invitation is yours if you are ever in the vicinity. My granddaughter is leaving today for Oxford, so I hope to visit her, and get over to Cambridge to a possible meeting of you too!
Until then, best regards,
Thank you Toni. Let me know when you are over on this side of the pond!
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