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Playmobil figures of the Three Kings with a camel

Kathleen's reflection from the Epiphany Refugio

Of all the figures in the nativity set, it’s the kings that I identify with the most. Not because of their magnificent cloaks or the mysterious boxes they carry. No. It’s because of the inordinately long time they take to get to where they’re going.

In our household the kings start off on the day we get the crib out, usually somewhere around the sixteenth of December. But they begin at the opposite side of the room. They might even go round three sides of a square, starting out in the wrong direction entirely. (And perhaps that isn’t so inaccurate – the real Magi went looking in the wrong place to start with, too.) They have an epic journey, hopping from shelf to shelf of the bookcase, trundling along the top of the piano, leaping huge crevasses from one piece of furniture to another, trying to keep out of reach of marauding animals – well, a domestic cat doesn’t look very domesticated when you’re three inches tall – passing such unlikely landmarks as the Little Mermaid and Holy Trinity Church, Guildford. Sometimes they get forgotten about for days at a time and have to scramble to catch up.

Meanwhile, of course, the crib has been crowded for days. The ox has been there since the beginning. Joseph and Mary and the donkey got there with a day or two to spare before Christmas. The baby Jesus and the angel appeared very, very late on Christmas Eve, and the shepherds brought their sheep to see. My set is made of Playmobil, so there are often a few unlikely visitors from other scenes too. Not to mention St Nicholas, who’s been there since the sixth. There’s a whole host of humans and animals and angelic beings who can take all the twelve days of Christmas to gaze at the infant Jesus in adoration.

All except the kings, who are still making their laborious way around the edge of the room. Sometimes it seems as if they’re getting further and further away from their objective. Sometimes it looks as if they aren’t making any progress at all. Three kings and a camel, heading for a distant blaze, thinking they know what they’re going to find, gloriously surprised when – at last – they arrive, and they, too, stand at the crib.

One day, that’s all they get. Hardly any time at all to understand and absorb what they’ve seen. And then they go back in the box. Next year they’ll have to do it all over again.

How familiar it all seems – those false starts, those wrong directions, those tedious slogs across barren landscapes, those times when I don’t seem to be moving at all. How wonderful, and how brief, those glimpses of glory. How comforting to know that even when I get it all wrong, when I’m distracted, when I take a giant step forward and then fall flat on my face, the Christ Child is still waiting for me.

The real Magi, returning to their own country by a different way, would have had the benefit of the return journey to talk about and to contemplate this remarkable encounter with an infant God. One journey out, one journey back. For the figurines, and for us, it’s a route that we can travel over and over again. Every year we can learn more. Every year we can go deeper. And that glory we see once in a while draws us onwards, keeps us on the right road, is at once our guide and our destination.

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