Epiphany. Fr Piers Linley imagines that he is a camel.

My name is Grumpy and I am a camel. Camels are proverbially evil tempered. I must admit I used to deserve to be called Grumpy because I was the worst-tempered camel of them all. But I’m not now, I’ve changed and I am going to tell you how and when I changed.

I live a very long distance away to the East. My master’s name is Melchior and he is the Prime Minister of the kingdom where we live. He had two friends, Balthazar and Caspar. He and his friends are very interested in astronomy. One day – I was listening in to their conversation – Melchior told his friends that a very, very bright star had arisen in the sky and that must mean that a very, very great king had been born. ‘Lets go and pay him homage’ said Balthazar and Caspar.

I started to grumble loudly because I could see that a journey was going to mean more work for me! And so it proved. My master, Balthazar and Caspar talked about what gifts to take to the new king. Gold obviously. Frankincense – an incense with a lovely smell when it is burnt. And the third gift was myrrh which is very precious – curious this choice because it is used to anoint the dead.

Melcher said, ‘Grumpy, you’re the biggest and worst tempered of all the camels, so you must carry the heaviest load – the gold.’ So off we went.

A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.

I soon got sore-footed and more grumpy than usual.

A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
With the voices singing in our cars, saying
That this was all folly.

But that star went before us all the way. And we came to a small village called Bethlehem. And there was the star standing over the entrance to a cave, a stable. So we knew we had arrived.

Melchior, my master, always looks after his camels very well – so he took us into the cave and fed us and gave us water. So I was able to see and hear what happened. We camels had to kneel to be unloaded. For some reason we didn’t get up again but remained kneeling.

My master and his friends presented their gifts to Joseph and to Mary. There was the flutter of angels’ wings and the sound of their sweet voices. Some shepherds had come also and were playing a lullaby on their pipes and cuddling their lambs. Everyone was rejoicing at the birth of so great a king. But I couldn’t see the king – not at first. Then in the middle of all this – in the manger from which the ox and the ass were snatching a little hay I saw a baby, the baby. And he wasn’t taking any notice of what was going on.

And I realised that what was so great about the new king – that he was just a baby who had come to share our life. He wasn’t going to be a great proud tyrant with a splendid court but was to dwell amongst us.

So we all worshipped as did the ox and the ass and the shepherds.

We didn’t stay long. But we all stepped out with a light heart. OK, part of it was me getting the gold of my back. But I felt so different. They still call me Grumpy. But I’m not. I’m now the most mild-tempered camel anyone has ever known. So that baby king did something for me – he saved me from my evil temper. Strange isn’t it?

I wonder if I will ever travel that way again – perhaps not. But I pray daily – oh yes, we camels pray – you’d pray if you had to walk so many miles across the desert. I pray that one day I might see that baby – grown up now, of course – again.

All this was a long time ago, I remember. But I would do it again.

Readings:Isaiah 60:1-6|Ephesians 3:2-3,5-6|Matthew 2:1-12

fr. Piers Linley was Chaplain to the Dominican Sisters at Bushey in Hertfordshire; he died at the Priory of St Dominic, London. May he rest in peace.