Christmas Eve 2017

Bebe_(Nativity)_Gauguin_IMG_7276“If I had Gabriel here
I’d slam my fist upon his nose,”
she thought (though did not say).
“He promised me the King of Kings
and here I lie, exhausted,
in the courtyard of the noisy inn
with my newborn son
whimpering in his sleep
where the spear-tipped straw
of this poor manger cradle
has pierced the blankets once again.”
She thought, and thought again:
“Well, no, I wouldn’t hit him.
Angels aren’t for messing with.
He’d deserve it, though.”

The inn had settled down at last
from raucous greetings shouted by
familiar travelers to their regular
companions, settled down from
moaning of the mothers, ministrations
of the midwife, helpless loving
sounds from father inarticulate
with worry, settled down from newborn
baby’s wail soon smothered on
his mother’s breast, settled down from
traveler and sojourner and nosy neighbor
come to see exhausted mother,
anxious, wary father,
child outraged
to be deprived
the comforts of the womb.

The inn had settled down at last
when new uproar approached
and scattered Mary’s thoughts of angels
(impious though they be).
A band of men, their faces sleepy,
peeked through each courtyard gate
along the street, in search of… what?
the weary mother wondered.
She could not see expressions
shadow-shrouded, but could see the waves
with which they summoned all
their comrades through the crowded
courtyard and approached
the manger bed.

“Forget angels,” Mary thought,
“What good is Joseph if he cannot
keep these wandering herdsmen
from us and this child?”

Now words emerged from mouths
less agile than an angel’s,
words of (really?) angels
praising God upon a hillside,
dispatching them with messages
of God’s over-arching favor
into Bethlehem to see a child
(o come, they’ve seen a child before)
laid sleeping in a manger.

Once started speaking, they could not
be stopped, repeating in their
rasping voices promises of glory,
wonder, all the Earth’s salvation,
to all its peoples, peace.

Much later, when they had run long short
of words, had taken their eager
wishes of good fortune, their ragged habits
(if not the lingering smell of sheep)
out of the courtyard, back unto the hills,
Mary’s weary mind returned to thought.

They had not been the royal messengers
of old, like courtiers of David, no.
But they had brought the message
loud, and strong, and clear.
Emmanuel. God is with us.
Sleeping now, still fitfully,
still irritated by the straw.
Emmanuel. Yes, God is with us.
Even here in noisy Bethlehem.
Even now in this no-comfort place.

Emmanuel. Yes, God is with us.

Even here.

Even now.

The image is Paul Gauguin’s painting “Bebe” or “Nativity of Tahitian Christ.”

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