“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God…”
-2 Corinthians 5:17
In the darkest days of World War II, English poet W.H. Auden wrote a long poem entitled For The Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio. In this 52-page poem, Auden imagines the thoughts of the main characters of the Christmas story, and what spurs them on to do what they do. He uses common everyday language, and presents the events of the story as if they were happening in the contemporary world. Through a series of dramatic character monologues, interspersed with narration and choruses, we encounter the people of the Christmas story in a very personal and captivating way. Ultimately, his goal is not to just retell the events of that first Christmas in a new way, but to remind us that the events of that incarnation forever impact our lives.
As I read through this poem for the first time ever last month, I was intrigued by his portrayal of the wise men. The gospels don’t tell us much about them in terms of details. Matthew doesn’t even reveal to us how many of them there were. We know they came from afar, following a star, bringing gifts of great symbolic value, and that when they left, they went home “another way.”
Auden points out that not only did they go home “another way” directionally, but they also went home “another way” as different people. The events of that holy moment transformed each of them into new creations. In his poem, each wise man came for a different reason. The first, a scientist, came seeking truth, and to become more truthful about himself. “To discover how to be truthful now is the reason I follow this star.” The second was so fixated on the past and the future that he had forgotten how to live in the present. “We anticipate or remember but never are. To discover how to be living now is the reason I follow this star.” The third is so self-centered and narcissistic that he cannot love. “To discover how to be loving now is the reason I follow this star.” Each, after the experience of being in the presence of the Christ-child, found a new way of living. They went home “another way” because they had become new creations.
During this season, we too who have made the journey to the manger, are called to allow that encounter to transform our lives; to let the incarnation of Christmas re-create us into new people…people whose old lives are replaced with new lives of meaning and substance and purpose. People who will go forth “another way.”
Auld writes in a prayer by Simeon: “And because of His visitation, we may no longer desire God as if He were lacking: our redemption is no longer a question of pursuit but of surrender to Him who is always and everywhere present. Therefore at every moment we pray that, following Him, we may depart from our anxiety into His peace. It’s errors forgiven, may our vision come home.”