Christmas Eve 2021

Such fear upon that blessed night:

The fear of Joseph, who had failed
to find a shelter proper for the birth.

The fear of Mary, who had never birthed
a child before, nor known her body to take charge.

The fear of neighbors, who awoke
to sounds of labor echoing.

The fear of stable owner, wondering
if father’s stormy brow meant violence.

The fear of midwife, all experienced
with healthy births – and infant deaths.

The fear of all, when mother’s screams
went silent, and the universe was hushed.

The fear of mother, marveling to hold
a newborn who would not be comforted.

The fear of angels, asking if a band
of shepherds was their audience.

The fear of shepherds, so the messenger
said first, “O do not be afraid.”

The fear of singers in the heavens’ choir,
lest heaven’s song lack harmony.

The fear of watchmen at the gate,
confronted by the shepherd band.

The fear of seekers for the infant Christ,
uncertain where to find the stable bed.

The fear of parents, shocked to see
the hillsides’ wanderers had come.

The fear of parents, hearing angels’ words,
which would the fear of monarchs generate.

The fear of monarchs, which would bring
no celebration, only tears like rain.

The fear of sleeping child. Who can know
what infants know? And who can say
what infant Jesus knew of dusty days
and stormy seas and quiet conversations
by the water’s edge, of questions over meals
and by a paralytic’s cot and in the shadows of
the night, of lepers leaping thanks unspoken
save for one, of baptism and Satan’s snares
and stories told and proverbs taught
and so much more, and so much more,
all leading to an agonizing cross
and to a tear-swept joyful dawn.

A poem/prayer based on Luke 2:1-20, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year C, Nativity of the Lord, Proper I.

The image is The Adoration of the Shepherds (ca. 1612-1614) by El Greco, 1541?-1614, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. https://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=48042 [retrieved December 24, 2021]. Public Domain. Original source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:El_Greco_002.jpg.

In Those Days

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. – Luke 1:39-40

In those days, Luke? Say rather:
“After her imagined life had been upset
by visitation of an angel,
Mary saw the pretenses of life too well,
her friends and loved ones, neighbors, too,
persisting in a sad semblance of ‘normal’
when the love of God was breaking in.

“She fled because her efforts to
acquaint the villagers of Nazareth
with blessing, with deliverance,
were greeted with polite discount,
with blank incomprehension,
silent disbelief, and smirks that smack
of shame and slander.

“She fled because she had no outlet for
the wonder bottled up inside,
no person who would recognize the glory.
Who but one already bearer of
a miracle would comprehend
a miracle before her?

“So in those days she fled. When Mary stood
upon the threshold of Elizabeth, received
a wave of welcome, knew they shared in wonder,
all the pain of others’ disbelief gave way,
and in a flood of tears she praised
magnificent reversal, pride dispersed,
power humbled, humble lifted,
hungry satisfied and wealthy leaving empty.

“For in the shared experience of grace,
they built on love’s foundation,
Mary and Elizabeth, to raise up faith
and hope and joy that others would not see.”

Write that, Luke. It’s what you meant by,
“In those days.”

A poem/prayer based on Luke 1:39-55, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year C, Fourth Sunday of Advent.

The image is Visit of Mary to Elizabeth by Fr. George Saget, a portion of a larger mural behind the altar of Keur Moussa Abbey in Senegal. Downloaded from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. https://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=56517 [retrieved December 15, 2021]. Digital source photo by Jonas Roux – Flickr [1], CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4870110.

Christmas 2020

Far from a barn in Bethlehem
in miles and in time,
remembering the stories passed
and wondering just how much
was forgot, and how much lost,
of Jesus’ birth that holy night.

Who will recall, in truth,
the circumstances of this year?
For though we think our times
“unprecedented,” it is just
a sign of swift forgetfulness,
a well-established human trait.

The griefs so hard to bear will not
be felt by our descendants, for we
did not recall the sorrows of
our ancestors, nor think to learn
from their successes or their failures to
protect ourselves from ill.

Nor will our children’s children hear
of ti leaves waving gently in the breeze
beyond the window’s Christmas glow.
Why should they? They will have their own
bedazzling sights and sounds at hand,
their own deep scents to breathe.

Now my tree’s glow (in echo of
ohi’a blossoming upon the slopes of
Kilauea) takes on the shades of stone
a-fountaining, a-flowing, and
a-pooling at the mountain peak.
This might be held in memory.

For this becomes a link between
the distant island of Hawai’i and the inn
of Bethlehem, the places where the Earth
grows thin, and from the deepest places
of the planet and the love of God
there flows the light a-glowing bright.

Yes, here we have the breaking-in of grace:
the one builds up the land and rises
from the seas. The other builds up love
and joy and peace, reclaiming souls
from greed and other-disregarding sin.
So come, Lord Jesus! Make the darkness bright.

Make this a holy Christmas.

It Begins

In the manger of Bethlehem, the infant sleeps.
On the Judean hillsides, the shepherds seek their flock.
Which of the parents dozes? The father?
The mother? Neither one? Both?
Love made flesh, power made weak,
Majesty made lowly, will soon awake in tears,
Seeking the warmth of skin and blood and milk.

Let that infant grow within our hearts.
Let that love take form within our purpose.
Let that mercy take shape in what we make.
Let that peace enfold those we embrace.
Let that grace shine forth just like that star:
Let the work of Christmas begin in me.
Let the work of Christmas begin in us.

A poem inspired in part by Luke 2 and in part by “The Work of Christmas” Howard Thurman. This poem was written for the Christmas Eve meditation of December 24, 2019, at Church of the Holy Cross UCC, Hilo, Hawai’i.

The image is The Birth of Christ (between 1570 and 1603) by Joos van Winghe – https://skd-online-collection.skd.museum/Details/Index/888833, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=81597171.

Christmas Eve 2019

A woman and an infant in the foreground of a stable.

“He promised me the Son of God, the angel did,”
she murmured to the sweating, focused midwife.
“Promise anything they will,” she answered,
not noticing her charge had spoken with an angel.
“Now push!” she cried. “And push again!” For in
the cries of birth what angel could be heard?

At length the growls and the gasping cease,
though night remains unblessed by silence. No.
“The Savior has good lungs,” the watching Joseph notes
and winces at his piercing tones, distressed
by all this labor and this hunger and this cold,
now swiftly stifled at the weary Mary’s breast.

“The angel promised me a Savior,” now she sighs
as Son of God tries once and twice and squalls,
frustrated, not to grasp the nourishment he seeks.
She gasps, adjusts the infant’s head by order
of the midwife, sighs. At last. The slurping sounds
distract her as the midwife mops away.

“Angels, now,” the midwife sighs. “There’s all too few of them.”
She gazes at the wincing man, wonders if this “angel”
hides a demon, decides to take the mother’s word.
“Come, angel. Pile up the straw behind your wife.
He’ll nurse much better once her back is straighter.”
“I’m not an angel,” says the man, redundantly. She knows.

“He promised me the Son of God.” Now Mary’s eyes
arrest the midwife’s gaze. “Of course he did, my love,”
she coos, finishes the cleaning, readjusts her gown.
“They’re all the Child of God, you know, and this one
is for you.” “Oh, no,” the mother says, as flatly as
a waveless sea. “This One is for us all.”

A meager coin in hand, the midwife steps into the night.
Another one convinced their baby is the Promised One,
she thinks. What sorrow for his mother if he follows
that drear road! She draws aside to let a band of grimy men
pass by. One asks about a baby in a manger, “So the angel said.”
She watches as they turn into the stable. Now: she wonders.

A poem based on Luke 2:1-20, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel reading for Year A, Christmas Eve.

The image is The Nativity by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale – Bonhams, lot 420, 19 March 2008, Chester, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=45143477.