Rorate Caeli

Sermon for the Epiphany: A King of Orient tells us what the journey to Bethlehem was like

by Fr. Richard Cipolla

From the Gospel: “And they fell down and worshipped Him.”

It was one of the worst trips I had ever taken.  The snow, the cold, and then rain as soon as we got out of the mountains.  They robbed us at one of the inns; in some towns the food was not even edible. But we went on, somehow we did not give this all up, for it was still there, that star that we had seen that night many week ago now.  We searched our charts, we consulted others, and that star—there was nothing like it we had ever seen.  And so we set out, we set out in some sort of faith, looking for something, for surely that star was meant to announce something great.  We were not even sure what we were looking for.  Some said a king was to be born in the land of the Jews.  That is what one of my companions had heard, and it was this king that we set out to find.  Or was it? 

It must have been more than that.  But the trip, the journey, as I said, was hard, even bitter.  I longed for the peace and comfort of home, and I nearly said to my companions—why don’t we turn back?  Doesn’t this seem like a wild goose chase to you?  I could see that they were weary too—but the star!  How could we stop when that star shone in the sky with a brilliance I had never seen before? 

It was wet and cold when we arrived in the royal city.  Beggars swarmed around us, and we threw them some coins.  The wind came up and it began to clear.  We looked up at the sky, and a moan escaped my lips. I looked at my two companions, and I saw there despair, anger and a deep tiredness.  For there was no star.  It was not there.  But we had come all this way.  O, please! Let it not be for nothing!  And I said to my friends: “We have tongues! We are educated men!  We shall find out if this king has been born.  --Hey, you there, boy! Where is the king’s palace? ?” We found it quite easily.  And we were shown great hospitality by the king of that place.  I did not like his face, but we were treated with the respect we deserved.  We had wonderful beds, exquisite food, and in the morning before talking to the king, we wondered whether if we should just stay there and enjoy and go no further. But the court magicians and astrologers—at least that is who I thought they were—read us a prophecy about this king and that he was to be born in some little town not far from this place.  This quickened our interest and our hope, and we decided to give this whole thing one last chance. The king asked us to stop by on the way back if we did find this king, because he wanted to do him homage. 

I felt ill at ease here now, as if this was not at all where I belonged, and I wanted to get out of there and on our way.  We went out into the night, and we looked into the sky, and there it was once again! Its light seemed to bore into our very souls, and now we trembled, for we knew that this was not in vain.  So we hurried.  Our pages could hardly keep up with us. It was cold again when we arrived some hours later to that little town. I shall never forget the light of that star, and it sounds strange to say that it led us, but it did.  And when we arrived—what can one say?  That it was not what we expected?  That is an understatement. But what did we expect?  We did not expect that palace and that king.  No. We knew that was not it at all. That was not what we had come so far to see. But this—but this!  The woman holding the child to her breast, the man standing over the two, the smell of straw and animals, a manger of wood.  Is this what we came all this way for? Is this what we suffered for? The cold, the stench, the weariness?  I thought we had come all this way for a birth, but this seemed in its own way like death, this birth, so hard.  We went in and saw the child.  The light of the star shone on his face.  And what we saw there: how can I explain it to you?  What can I say?  But what we did, what we did, was to fall down there before this child in that place and bowed down before him.  For what we saw there was something we never dreamed of in our wildest dreams.  It was all we had hoped for. But I cannot explain.  All I can tell you is what we did. We fell down and worshipped him. And as we did this, the star vanished--but the light remained.

We went back to where we came from.  Nothing had changed. But now we were ill at ease there. What we had known felt empty, an emptiness we could not explain to our families, our friends. We felt like aliens, our ancestral religious ritual seemed empty and pointless.  I thought about that star, and what we saw now so long ago. Birth as death. Death as birth.  I should be glad of another death.

(Homage a T.S. Eliot)

[Repost of one of our favorite sermons.]