The Upside-Down of Epiphany: The Rich, The Poor

Though Paul Claudel, the French-Catholic poet, a man who knew the East, has the Magi not as sages or kings in his poem Chant de L’Epiphanie, because they would have found themselves distinctly out of place among the poor gathered at the Crib, I can’t help wondering if that ‘out-of-placeness’ is precisely the point?

I find I need the Kings’ conversion; I need them to turn around (repent) and go back along a different path. I’m not quite sure why they came – an errant star? (oh, yes, like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow?) – but they did and they were not the same afterward.

The poets, the tender-hearts, stand with us on the threshold, inviting us to see the Word made flesh/fresh.

For me, this holy day/season is one for the missioners of the world: those who are ‘out-of-place’, those who (ideally) serve the poor*, leaven communities, are (in) themselves working theophanies, always in the process of deeper, wider conversion through their encounters with the strange and unfamiliar.

It matters to the story, I think, whether the Magi are poor/regular or rich/privileged. It is interesting to read the story with these possibilities in mind.How different are the scenes? (For example, with the Kings rocking up late to the birth.) How do the messages/meanings differ?


Revolutionary love is full of surprises for both, in any case. This is exactly what the Mother of God foretells in her prophetic song.


Walter Brueggemann’s poem is new to me, but also a beautiful expression of the upside-downing and unmooring of a world we have consented to and made in our image.


by  Walter Brueggemann

 The wise ones hurried from the East.

They are the wise of the world.

They are the ones wise in science,

for they read the “intelligent design” of the stars.

They are the wise ones of the economy,

for they come with gold.

They are the wise ones of politics,

for they sought a king.

They are our delegates, as we stand

carrying all the learning of the academy,

of the market,

of the laboratory,

of the halls of power.

They came, tenaciously and eagerly and regally.

They came and bowed down before your foolishness.

They sensed the contradiction

between his vulnerability and their sagacity,

between his innocence and their calculation,

between his exposure and their many concealing robes of power.

They worshiped him!

They recognized that he called into question

all that they treasured,

so they yielded their best to him,

their preciousness,

their secret potions,

their rich perfumes.

And we stand alongside them with

our wealth,

our control,

our smarts,

our sophistication,

our affluence.

Give us freedom like theirs

to yield,

to worship,

to adore,

to have our lives contradicted.

Give us grace like theirs

to embrace the foolishness of the child,

that the first will be last and the last first,

that the humble will be exalted and the exalted humbled,

that we may lose the world and gain our lives.

Give us imagination like theirs

to go home by another route

on the path where foolishness is wisdom

and weakness is strength

and poverty is wealth.

Make our new foolishness specific

that the world might become —

through us — new.

This delightful contradiction is utterly disorienting; eucatastrophic (defined here for the non-Tolkienistas), one might say and I find this especially appealing. Imagine it! To have our lives contradicted, to yield, to worship & adore: to make the world new.

And on a final related note, I’d like to give respect to Thomas Piketty who refused a French government honour saying that he didn’t think it was ‘the government’s role to decide who was honourable’. Also, to Alexei Navalny, a Russian opposition leader, who cut off his electronic tag and rejected his illegal detention. These are just stories that have cropped up in the last couple of days but are illustrative to me of the kind of folly of the powerful that we can, and perhaps should, interrogate.

* Very nicely glossed by Benedict XVI [here] “It is a canticle that reveals in filigree the spirituality of the biblical anawim, that is, of those faithful who not only recognize themselves as “poor” in the detachment from all idolatry of riches and power, but also in the profound humility of a heart emptied of the temptation to pride and open to the bursting in of the divine saving grace.”

One thought on “The Upside-Down of Epiphany: The Rich, The Poor

  1. Pingback: Hope is the thing with feathers | Orientikate*

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