The next two Sundays of Advent we light the candles of “Joy,” and then, “Love.” Both of these themes are present in this poem by the late Phyllis McGinley, Pulitzer Prize winning American author of children’s books and poetry. Gaspar, Balthazar, and Melchior are the names traditionally given to the Magi. And while this poem was written for the time after Christmas, I think it has a message for us in our now busiest days of preparation.
The Ballad of Befana
Befana the Housewife, scrubbing her pane,
Saw three old sages ride down the lane,
Saw three gray travelers pass her door—
Gaspar, Balthazar, Melchior.
“Where journey you, sirs?” she asked of them.
Balthazar answered, “To Bethlehem,
For we have news of a marvelous thing.
Born in a stable is Christ the King.”
“Give him my welcome!”
Then Gaspar smiled,
“Come with us, mistress, to greet the Child.”
“Oh happily, happily would I fare,
Were my dusting through and I’d polished the stair.”
Old Melchior leaned on his saddle horn.
“Then send but a gift to the small Newborn.”
“Oh gladly, gladly I’d send Him one,
Were the hearthstone swept and my weaving done.
“As soon as ever I’ve baked my bread,
I’ll fetch Him a pillow for His head,
And a coverlet, too,” Befana said.
“When the rooms are aired and the linen dry,
I’ll look at the Babe.”
But the Three rode by.
She worked for a day and a night and a day,
Then gifts in her hands, took up her way.
But she never could find where the Christ Child lay.
And still she wanders at Christmastide,
Houseless, whose house was all her pride,
Whose heart was tardy, whose gifts were late;
Wanders, and knocks at every gate,
Crying, “Good people, the bells begin!
Put off your toiling and let love in.”
Joy is all around us now, but in our lengthy lists “to do,” we fail to see it, feel it, or share it. One of my favorite theologian authors, Frederick Buechner writes, “Happiness turns up more or less where you’d expect it to—a good marriage, a rewarding job, a pleasant vacation. Joy, on the other hand, is as notoriously unpredictable as the one who bequeaths it.”
That notoriously unpredictable joy is just waiting for you, perhaps even more than you are waiting for it.
Come to worship this week. Bring joy or find joy, and take it with you.
With faith, hope, love, and joy,
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