Climb the rugged beam to see
the scurry of life around the tree:
lion and baby, adder and lamb,
sheltered in this outstretched hand.
Thick with promise, the leaves gather birds
and the birds whisper secrets in long-forgotten words.
Turn your ear from self to sky
to hear the heavens in reply:
There’s hope for cut-down trees, the song
echoes in the on-and-on.
Lift your anxious stumpy fists
and open fingers out to grip
the hope that bursts, the life that beats.
Barren soul, the first fruit’s here.
A little child leads.
Kingdoms fall from might;
panelled houses cannot keep out the flood.
The humblest stump brings forth the branch
and a little child leads the animals’ dance.
As the baby rests its head in the nest,
the greenest hope turns to solid twig,
and then as firm and fixed branch.
Reach out: these arms reach out to hold,
to gather in what scatters far.
A little child shall lead; a man
shall climb the rugged beam.
When You come back again
Would You bring me something from the fridge?
(Steve Taylor & Peter Furler, “Lost the Plot”)
It fed your roots back when you learnt to crawl,
back when you burrowed into soil
eager to receive all the earth had to say.
Defeat is the last refuge of the desolate stump.
Promises of orchards seem taunting,
a mockery. We hoped such things when we were young
Even Nebuchadnezzar, cut down,
hangs no gardens, only grazes like a cow.
But remember Job of the cutdown tree
when the first shoot of green
defies the brown stump.
Remember the farfetched, microscopic life
that burrows like a promise
and fells kingdoms with its might.
If no good as a tree –
no fruit budding,
no birds to rest in its shade –
then cut it down.
The wood may serve for a building or,
at the very least, a fire.
Get in first before inferno comes;
better to be a stump when the fires rage.
Resignation rests in the undergrowth,
but the faint song of Maranatha stirs
the itchy roots that remember praise…
So now: as we wait in rapt expectancy,
will we unwrap our dreams? Our loves?
Or unravel with the pressure,
the hallowed table proving to be full of holes.
When the day and its gestures disappoint,
what will tell us, You matter?
Frantic to complete the list,
we quickly pass the simple scene:
a teenage mother tending her child,
tired from the journey to the in-laws’ town.
Too pressed for time with time-pressing matters,
we miss the divine entrance into our smelly matter.
Our lunchtime squabbles and fights over gifts
are themselves the stage He chose to walk.
The chance to be changed lies within rudest details:
a makeshift crib; soil and straw;
an angry heart with limited room.
But first: there’s the stockings to fill.
Some products may be unavailable in stores,
but this one ships before Christmas.
Rejoice at same-day dispatch;
rejoice that you’ve met your Kris Kringle requirements.
When the presents are bought
and the turkey is basting,
when the family’s sleeping,
One of the great mysteries and wonders that we can be reflecting on this Advent season is the Incarnation: the mystery that the God of the universe would become a human, even a defenceless baby. To explore this mystery, Søren Kierkegaard tells the story of a king who loves a poor and humble girl and wants her to be lifted by his love, not always ashamed of the difference between them. Here is a slightly playful, poetic translation of the story. You can find fuller, more accurate renditions of it in abundance online, but they often leave out the playfulness of Kierkegaard’s style. So here is my offering, for what it is worth. May it give some food for thought this advent.
You ask me how God might be teacher
you ask how His love might drive Him to teach.
You ask how His Love could love over vast distance
as divides all low learners from this teacher of Love?
Well, once upon a time, a king loved a maiden –
No, wait! Is this kids’ stuff?
A fairy tale? Where
is the systematic doctrine?
Well, so thought old Athens, when Socrates spoke
of food, and drink, and doctors, and trifles;
I wish I could only speak of such trifles,
for we all, from birth, understand food and drink
(and the need to see doctors)
and the high ways of kings are so often removed
from the eating and drinking of mere men.
But let us move on; we mustn’t get stuck.
A king loved a maiden; let’s leave it like that.
And this king, unlike poets, was not tied up tight
with the “wisdom” that hampers clear-headedness; he
loved that low maiden (this much we’ve seen),
and he loved her without the High Rule of a king.
His courtiers said, What a favour the king
will bestow on the low one! These words made him sick.
They drove him to fury; that wasn’t his love.
He would love her, this maiden,
such that she’d never see
a high, lofty patron,
a detached, distant king.
Impossible! say the king’s courtiers. You
are the king! Overshadow her
with your king’s grandeur!
Make her feel lowly! Unworthy! You’re king!
How can Love straddle
the high and low yet
not overshadow the low into their grave?
Love must become
like the lowly it loves.
The teacher must be like the student;
must make Himself low
like the maiden.
(Adapted and translated from Søren Kierkegaard, “God as Teacher and Saviour (Guden som Lærer og Frelser)”, from Philosophical Fragments (Philosophiske Smuler), http://sks.dk/ps/txt.xml)