Prophecy is not an easily digested concept. The idea that things are foretold and then happen, possibly centuries later, tempts us to draw easy conclusions about the events going on around us right now, in particular the extreme weather phenomena associated with climate change. Human beings do not have the necessary patience to wait for the fulfillment of prophecy, to see the present moment in the context of the bigger picture of the past, as well as of the predicted future.
Fake news depends on our predilection for jumping to easy conclusions and, in doing so, also ignores the tiny truths revealed over the centuries in what I would call prophetic ordinariness. On the whole, prophetic ordinariness is about a build-up of significant moments, culminating in what can only be described as the ultimate moment, or destiny for humanity. It is this destiny that the Christian Church is celebrating in the Holy season of Epiphany, the unconditional manifestation of the Christ to all people without exception.
So the journey of the Magi acquires a particular significance for us in the ordinariness of our everyday lives, in all the things that need to be done or got through. We can assume, for one thing, that these important men had a retinue, a host of minor operatives who were there to make the journey go as smoothly as possible, and it is their individual journeys which are significant for each of us. They were there to attend to detail.
T.S. Eliot writes in his poem ‘The Journey of the Magi’ that there was much to complain of. They had ‘a hard time coming of it’. Accommodation was scarce and expensive. It was the wrong time of year. The camels were going lame and becoming increasingly disgruntled and uncooperative. Troop morale was at an all time low, but having come thus far it was too late to turn back. So they kept going, believing, rather desperately, that there was a point to this madness.
We can only imagine that the three wise ones at the front seemed oblivious to all this, their attention fixed on their star – perhaps on their own inner star as well. Their journey, and that of their followers, depended on them being continually present to their vision, so that their sense of meaning and purpose, (even if they did not entirely understand it, since it would seem they had no previous knowledge of this new king), lent a military cohesiveness to the whole venture. As a result, the men trusted their three leaders and, since trust ultimately depends on love, they must have loved them as well.
We know the end of the story. They arrive, gifts are given, homage is paid and something greater than homage – something like adoration – happens spontaneously. Neither the wise ones or their retinue are expecting to be so profoundly moved and yet it seems that, for all the madness of the journey undertaken, this coming together in adoration is its supreme meaning. All the hardship and inconveniences are brought together, offered, and redeemed in this most unlikely of regal settings, and blessed by the young king. Despite the incongruous surroundings, there is not the slightest sense of gene, of unease or embarrassment, such is the king’s humility in the deep silence of the moment.
There are times when we too are brought up short in this way, when for no apparent reason, perhaps, there is an instinctive need for deep silence, or a sense of it overwhelming us and the concerns of the moment. This is the silence of which St. John speaks at the beginning of his gospel. It is the silence that was before ‘anything that was made came into being’. It is the silence of love responding to Love in which human beings find their proper level and in which, if we can engage with it more deeply and more easily, the world may yet be saved from itself.