CHRISTMAS WITH EVELYN UNDERHILL: The Magi And New Birth

The Magi And New Birth Evelyn Underhill

From The School of Charity

The story of the Magi shows the new life which has appeared within the rich texture of our normal experience, casting its purifying radiance upon the whole existence of man, the Light of the world, not the sanctuary lamp of a well-appointed church.  Cozy religious exclusiveness is condemned in this mystery.  It is easy for the pious to join the shepherds, and feel in place at the crib, and look out into the surrounding darkness saying, Look at those extraordinary intellectuals wandering about after a star; they seem to have no religious sense.  Look what curious gifts and odd types of self-consecration they are bringing; not at all the sort of people one sees in church.  Yet the child who began by receiving those unexpected pilgrims had a woman of the streets for his most faithful friend, and two thieves for his comrades at the last.  Looking at these extremes, so deeply significant of the depth and breadth of that divine generosity into which our narrow and fragmentary loves must be absorbed.  The Epiphany means the free pouring out of a limitless light – the Light of the World – not its careful communication to those whom we hold worthy to receive it.  The Magi, after all, took more trouble than the shepherds.  They came a longer journey, by more perilous paths.  The intellectual virtues and longings of men are all blessed in Christ, “the intellectual radiance full of love.”

We turn to another point which every mystery in its turn will show us; for they are there to light up the cycle of our own interior growth.  And here again, God’s mysterious and life-giving action in the soul is for a purpose that points beyond ourselves.  It happens not merely for our sakes; but because his manifestation to the world must be through us.  Every real Christian is part of the dust-laden air which shall radiate the glowing charity of God; catch and reflect his golden light.  Ye are the light of the world, because you are irradiated by the one Light of the World, the holy generosity of God.  The great New Testament saints – in fact, all saints – look right through and past the outward appearance of men’s lives, and seek only for the seed of the divine life within them, the hidden child of God.  Ye are of God, little children, exclaims Saint John, greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world.  That is the awful truth which rules the inner life of man.

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