A multitude of camels

pack of camels

Photo copyright: Paolo Fassina

A multitude of camels shall cover you,

the young camels of Midian and Ephah;

all those from Sheba shall come.

They shall bring gold and frankincense,

and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.

Isaiah 60: 6

Oh, what a beautiful and comical image the prophet Isaiah gives us for the world’s response to the messiah coming in Israel. Multitudes of camels! How extravagantly the world will welcome him! Imagine if a multitude of camels arrived at your door. It would be a bit overwhelming and disorganized. That’s probably why our friend John Henry Hopkins Jr. trimmed the number down to three camels bearing his three kings of Orient for his famous Epiphany hymn. It is a bit overwhelming and a bit strange to imagine the camels, and presumably their riders, from three whole nations arriving to see “the glory of the Lord.” (Is. 60:1), but that is what the prophet says will happen.

The multitude of camels is of course an image meant to show the wondrous and complete response of all creation to God’s light coming into the world. It doesn’t matter how many camels and riders show up for God to be praised, but I wish Hopkins had put a few more in his poem so that we could get the picture of just how momentous the Epiphany of our Lord really was. Jesus is the Christ for all the world, not just for Israel, and not just for us. The kings we sing about are an example of faithful, willing, adventurous followers of God outside of the expected chosen nation. When we see the light of God, the whole creation sees it too. Many camels, many people, many dogs, cats, fish and ferns and trees will respond to God’s renewing of the world.

How we respond to Christ’s coming must be just as extravagant as all of the camels and their riders, the “abundance of the seas” (Is. 60: 5) coming to Zion because the light has dawned. It must be as giving, as loving, as rich as all of that, because God’s gift of life to the whole world is rich, loving and extravagant. It may feel a little comical, it may seem a bit much, but I hope our response to seeing the glory of the Lord is like a huge procession of all the creatures of the world bringing their gifts to lay at his cradle. May you be blessed this Epiphany with a vision of the glory of the Lord, a response of extravagant, adventurous love, and maybe a few more camels than you were expecting.