Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Child

“Begone with you! Get out from under my feet! Useless brat, you’re always in my way!”

These shouts, and more besides, which she didn’t stop to hear, pursued her down the street as she fled from the home she shared with her father and stepmother and her stepmother’s two very young children. It was always the same these days. Since her father had remarried she was constantly told that she was a “useless lump of a girl”, and “no help to anyone.” She tried hard to be a help, she really did, rocking the babies when they cried, fetching things she was asked to fetch, but somehow, the minute she felt her stepmother’s eye upon her, it would suddenly turn into disaster – something would be dropped or spilled or knocked over, and it was all her fault. She never seemed to get things right, and was obviously a bitter burden to the woman who was her new mother. Gone were the long days playing in the streets with her friends, or the gentle lessons with her mother; her mother had caught a sudden fever and died within two days, and, after a period of desolation, her father had been talked into another marriage. She felt like she had lost both her parents, since her father seemed to drift along these days like an empty man, and hardly seemed to notice her existence.

But there was bustle and hurrying in the village this afternoon. She had no idea what was happening, but she followed the crowd to find out. Any excitement was better than sitting down in the dust feeling sorry for herself. She had learned the hard way that it was better not to ask adults too many questions. That only led to being noticed when she didn’t want to be. So she listened hard and learned that somebody called Jesus was just down the road and people were going out to meet him. She had no idea who he was, but figured he must be someone important if half the village thought it worth stopping their daily work to see him. She noticed some of the mothers snatching up their littlest children and taking them along. She trailed after them, keeping out of the way as best she could, but making sure she didn’t get left behind.

But it seemed it was all for nothing. When they reached the crowd up ahead and some of the women rushed forward with their babies, as if they specially wanted the man to see their small children (why?), a group of burly fishermen stepped forward and told them, quite roughly, to go away and leave the master in peace. He had better things to do than be bothered with a bunch of little kids!

It all felt so horribly familiar that she felt the tears stinging at the corners of her eyes. She was about to wipe them away with her grubby hands when another voice cut through, and the crowd was suddenly silent. She would spend the rest of her life wondering whether that voice was heartbreakingly sad or so full of joy that it felt like the very stars were skipping. Maybe there was a place where deep pain and deep joy met together? “Let the children come,’ he said, “and don’t try to stop them. The Kingdom of God belongs to ones like these.”

At those words the men stepped back and the women pressed forward with their children in their arms. And the girl stood where she was, trying to see what was happening, but too scared to come any closer. Then the crowd started to clear in front of her. She looked up and saw him, and he saw her, and beckoned her forward with a gesture.  Not stopping to think about it, she ran forward straight into his arms. He held her close, and she had never felt so loved, so safe. He looked up at the crowd and said softly, “Truly I say to you, unless you receive the Kingdom of God like a child, you shall not enter it.”

Monday, December 19, 2016

Stable Song

Here in this place of darkness
The Hope of the World is born
And the night is a shrouding silence
From all man’s grandeur shorn.

Here in this place of darkness
Only a man and a girl
The beasts for a poor man’s living
And the glorious Light of the World.

Here in this place of darkness
While the clattering town grows still
Comes the Desire of Nations,
And only the angels thrill.

Here in this place of darkness
Wrapped in the cloak of night
The King of all Kings is swaddled,
Safe from the mad king’s sight.

Here in this place of darkness
Love has come down to earth
To bear our sin and sorrow,
Subject to human birth.

Here in this place of darkness
Where all earth’s powers grow blind;
Here he is born to heal us,
Saviour of all mankind.

Here in this place of darkness,
Ordinary stable place;
Here lies all heaven’s glory,
Here lies all heaven’s grace.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Mary's Lullaby

So tiny! I hold you with soft tears of wonder
Here in the silence without angels’ thunder
Knowing that love splits my whole heart asunder.
Sleep little son of mine.

Oh what a year! A chaotic world-turning!
Whispers of gossip (how my ears were burning!)
Yet for this moment my tired self was yearning.
Sleep little son of mine.

Pain tore my body (this night like no other!)
Now it is past, and the warm beasts no bother.
Now I must learn what it means to be mother.
Sleep littler son of mine.

Soon comes the morning, the bustling town waking,
Clamour of voices with buying and taking,
Too soon the fears and the questions, the aching.
Sleep little son of mine.

Soon comes the future, oh what is it bringing?
Darkness and terror, or bright angels singing?
But now we rest in the nest of my singing.
Sleep little son of mine.

Monday, December 12, 2016

The Swan at sunset (Christmas thoughts)

Into the sunset winging, flinging
Showers of gold on snowy breast;
Into the light too bright for seeing,
Wings beating strong at hope’s behest.

I, the earthbound, ache for such flying
Leaving the dull of earth behind
All the old pains below me lying
Ahead the joys I long to find.

Oh to so soar! The flesh escaping
Dancing delight across the air
Leaving behind the toil of living
No more such heaviness to share.

And yet, my God, not this your choosing.
You, who reside in perfect light,
Heaven’s perfected joy refusing,
You took our flesh, you walked our night.

You, who have drunk the wine of glory,
Gave your own blood in place of mine
Took up the burden of my story
That I, in turn, may taste your wine.

Therefore I wait your choice of season,
While the earth turns, and rivers run,
This life to live, nor seek for easing,
Learning to love as you have done.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

A Tale in Two Scenes

See the old man, and the boy, growing up, but still a child, wide-eyed with wonder. He is the most dearly loved of children, the only son of his mother; the child of a miraculous conception when she was long past her fertile years. And he is precious to his father also, for in this child, Isaac, this child of laughter, rest all the promises of God that he would make from the seed of this one man a mighty nation, even though he has only one right-born son, this one, born years after all reasonable hope had faded from the world. And now, here they are, walking side by side, and between them is a donkey, loaded with firewood. Two young servants walk behind them, carrying the provisions for the journey and a pot of fire.

But now they have come to a parting of the ways. Ahead lies the mountain they have been journeying towards for three days. The old man instructs the servants to remain there with the donkey, then he and his son begin the ascent, carrying the wood and the fire-pot. At his father’s gesture, the young man walks in front. He does not know that his father is greedy for every remaining second that he can fix his eyes on his son. For he knows, as the boy does not, that God has commanded him to kill his son on an altar there, and make of him a burnt offering. And when the boy asks him where the sacrifice is, he can only reply, with heavy-hearted faith, that God will supply a lamb.

But he does not know the deep truth of his own words. For his son will not die upon that mountain. Instead, God has already provided a lamb to die in his place, a sheep caught in a thicket to be offered up on his behalf.

See the women walking in the soft grey light that precedes the dawn. There is no laughter between them, and few words, for their hearts are in deepest mourning for the One who has just died, the One on whom they had pinned all their hope, believing that in Him the promises of God would be finally fulfilled. But no, it was not to be, he was crucified on a hill three days ago, and the sky turned dark at his dying, and all joy fled from their world. And now they go to perform the last act of kindness, the one which the dead cannot feel, but which has been, for centuries, the ritual of grieving women, and their last chance to look upon his tortured face. Their eyes blur with tears, and they do not hide their pain from one another.

They do not yet know that, upon the mountain, God has provided a lamb to die in their place, and that the Father Himself had to watch His Son die as a sacrifice. They do not yet know that he is the firstborn of many, that from his death a whole new people will be born, a multitude no man can number, from every tribe and nation and language upon the earth.

And they do not yet know that they will find the tomb empty, and the Beloved restored to undying life. For they do not yet know that He is not dead, for he is risen.