My rugged way to heaven, please God.
(Christina Rossetti, “Old and New Year Ditties”)
Sometimes a harvest, sometimes fallow,
sometimes Job’s cut-down tree,
the year passes in a sighing nonetheless,
a barely whispered “Yet”:
yet this is not all,
this is not how all years shall go,
this is not the only movement that time possesses for us,
this is not the only sun our earth will orbit ’round,
this is not the end of years,
this is not the ground.
Tomorrow await ever-new mercies;
tomorrow see what tarries yet
will surely not delay.
Christmas hath a darkness
Brighter than the blazing noon…
(Christina Rossetti, “Christmas Eve”)
Minutes before the shops shut, I walked
supermarket aisles with other forgetful ones,
gleaning the last sheaves of festive cheer
while the muzak paused to say it was time.
And two millennia ago, a carpenter and his pregnant bride
found themselves strapped for place and time,
entering mess and forgetfulness,
and God came into the dark.
And driving home I passed the lights of the street,
dazzling with their explosive brightness.
It all leads here: tomorrow shops will shut, corks will pop,
paper will rustle in symphonic joy.
And in a manger God chose the dark,
the small forgotten things, and still,
still He comes into the dark.
Our lights are too bright to see Him.
…heaven cannot hold him,
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When he comes to reign…
(Christina Rossetti, “In the Bleak Midwinter”)
While fires burned, I retreated
to safer, internal climes, denying heat.
Discomfort seemed unreasonable,
inconvenient that we should be so troubled.
Yet world rarely does as it’s told,
pointing a finger at us as we point back at it.
If world won’t be bullied, how much less so God
who bursts mightier than fire
and shakes out our smug contentment
with the mountains and the stars.
If earth will melt, how much more our pride
when kingdom comes in blaze,
How long shall I long in vain?
(Christina Rossetti, “Of Him That Was Ready to Perish”)
And so we are not ready,
too full of dross and dust,
too much in need of refining fire
to enter a purity our kind spoilt long ago.
Nor is it ready for us,
nor is the day ripe,
for patient salvation beckons
while a kingdom of misfits slowly heeds the call.
And, in our waiting, fire cleanses:
in expectation, yes, but also in doubt,
in anguish and breathlessness and all the daily ache
that drives our longing ever more to be clean.
In all our midnight prayers and wrestling,
all our broken hips and pride,
all our cries – How long, how long? –
in all this our souls will prepare.
For Thou art in the wilderness
Drawing and leading Thine Own love…
(Christina Rossetti, “The Chiefest Among Ten Thousand”)
The barren land will bear fruit
but now, in this waiting time, I must go
where barrenness still lingers
to meet with You who chose this
of all the compass points in creation,
of every nook of the ever-expanding universe –
chose this place, and this flesh.
I will go where You are found
and I will go to find Your face,
the Rose of Sharon set against the thistles,
the morning sun at heat of day.
...we are almost ready to fall in love with our own desolation.
(Christina Rossetti, Seek and Find)
Whether height of summer or bleak midwinter, there’s death:
in bare-branched trees or brittle grass.
Fire or frost, the end’s the same,
both killers and destroyers alike.
And the greatest foe of all’s despair,
the sickness blighting not only this
but every future season’s crop.
There’s a sickness that can end in life,
that kills illusions, opens eyes.
Wisest farmers wait their time
and learn the seasons’ darkest signs.
Wiser still the one who turns
despair of here to hope beyond.
“What can I give him,
Poor as I am?”
Today is one of the most important days in the old church calendar, but also one of the most widely forgotten: the feast of Epiphany. Today we remember the wise men visiting Jesus, but we also remember what this represents, that the Gospel has been made known to the nations. Epiphany is an older celebration than Christmas, and in some early church documents it appears to have been the date when the Eastern church at least celebrated Jesus’ birthday. It’s a wonderful day, full of rich significance for believers to celebrate. Today we’re going to enlist one of my favourites, Bach, to see us through, with the help of his first Epiphany cantata. You can read the text and translation here.
I will arise with the stars.
In dappled light, the ground illuminates to show
the king made low,
the way made known.
I will arise with the stars to see
the glory that shines from east to west,
though wearing humble clothes.
I will arise with the night.
With nothing in my hand to give, I will receive
for years enclosed.
I will arise in the night to see
the light that day has not received
and now is bright to see.
I will travel with the kings
though I am no king, nor have ever been wise.
I will arise
with the stars in my eyes
and give a broken heart, for all
the better your treasure to store.