God’s Gift Spurned

“The Ballad of Befana”
by Phyllis McGinley

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."

Mothers know the satisfaction of a clean house. We know it partly because of how rare it is, and when the stars align and we have time and peace enough to scrub the floors and set the toy shelves in order, to look on our treasures clean and in their places, we feel the joy of our accomplishment deeply. In fact, as I write this devotional I am basking in the pleasure of a freshly cleaned house. The kids are with my husband at the Nutcracker and I have had the entire morning to make ready our house for the Christmas season. The hum of our robotic vacuum is the soundtrack to my meditations, and the smell of bleach and orange is in the air. 

And in my satisfaction that I have all the things in order for Christmas, Befana has a message for me. Making ready to welcome the Christ child has nothing to do with getting the ribbons on the rims of my jars of homemade marmalade. 

I am writing this devotional before Christmas, but you will be reading it just after. What did you (and I) make of the time that was given to us to welcome our Lord this year? Did we clear the way through the clutter of shopping and cleaning, of feasts and decorations, of concerts and performances and guests over to dinner, and make way for the King? The Scriptures today warn us that it’s not always so easy. There is something in us that doesn’t love a prophet telling us that the kingdom of God is at hand, that does not know nor receive the one who made us when he comes.

Dr. Janelle Aijian
Associate Director of Torrey Honors College
Associate Professor of Philosophy
Torrey Honors College
Biola University

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