The Most Reverend Richard Holloway (Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church):
There is an ancient legend that there were four wise men, but only three of them made it to Bethlehem for the birth of Christ. The fourth wise man went aside to help a poor widow, and by the time he had finished the others had gone. He tried to catch up, but kept stopping to help people in need, so by the time he got to Bethlehem the holy family had left. He went on looking for Christ, but was constantly diverted to assist those in need, through all the famines and wars and oppressions of history. At last, worn out with serving others and searching for Christ, he was told that all along he had been encountering him and serving him in those who suffered.
The idea of Christ incognito, the Christ hidden among the poor, has its basis in Matthew's gospel, chapter 25:
"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, 'Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.' Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?' And the king will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me."
The idea of Christ incognito has taken different forms in Christian spirituality. Sometimes Christ is served in the poor, but sometimes Christ himself is thought of as travelling through the travails of history. That is certainly how Augustine of Hippo saw it:
"Christ is still journeying whither he has gone before. For Christ went before us in the head, and Christ follows in the body. Christ is still here toiling; here Christ suffered at Saul's hands. Christ is still here in want; here Christ still journeys; Christ here is sick; Christ is here in bonds."
However we express it, it is a vision of longing for a mended creation, a world that has been healed of its pain and injustice. Here is a modern version of the same ideal:
"Those who carry grand pianos
to the tenth floor wardrobes and coffins
the old man with a bundle of wood hobbling beyond the horizon
the woman with a hump of nettles
the lunatic pushing her baby carriage
full of empty vodka bottles
they all will be raised up
like a seagull feather like a dry leaf
like eggshell scraps of street newspapers Blessed are those who carry
for they will be raised."
Others might put it in different language, but we all share the same longing. Let us pray.
Grant us, O God, a vision of our land, fair as she might be: a land of justice, where none shall prey on others; a land of plenty, where poverty shall cease to fester; a land of equality, where success shall be founded on service, and honour be given to worth alone; a land of peace, where order shall not rest on force, but on the love of all for their land, the great mother of the common life and welfare. Amen.