…all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall bring good news, the praises of the Lord.
The promise shines bright,
but not all have eyes to see.
Many search elsewhere, dismissive of their quest
for nothing great comes from Palestine.
Preferring the grandeur of temple and palace courts,
they snub noses at a people on their knees
and follow other stars for other fates.
Yet to those who’ve been waiting,
those willing to hoist saddle and trudge desert sands,
the movement of stars matches movements in hearts
and the star points to what they are seeking.
Only this is unexpected: not only
do they bring the ointment of kings
and the gold that’s surely fit for him
but a resin that embalms when bodies expire,
a sign that the child-king lives here to die.
Knees bow before this acceptance of fate
while proud knees are buckled at the truth.
Only when it humbles will it save.
Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”
Rachel weeps; the Spirit keeps
vigil with the ones who mourn.
One child lives, though many die;
that child will die for all.
Herod paces and erases
innocence across his land.
The tyrant frets; the child-king flees
and grips his mother’s hand.
The deed is done and I am numb;
must Adam’s debt be paid this way?
No, God Himself must lose a son
and tears will be praise one day.
Today is perhaps the hardest day of the Christmas season, the day that remembers the story found in Matthew 2 of Herod ordering the murder of all boys under the age of 2. While this is not an aspect of the Christmas story that is often told, it finds a home in an old and melancholy song, the Coventry Carol (beautifully rendered here by the sublime Anúna). The carol, part of a medieval mystery play once regularly performed in Coventry, gives voice to three mothers who are mourning the children they will lose. Today’s poem considers these women and the promise that Jesus the Messiah would be acquainted with our griefs. It’s a story I would rather pass over, with my son only eleven weeks old as I write, but God does not pass over our deepest griefs, so I want to use this story to remind me of the fact that He hears and knows and is present in all that we cannot understand.
Come, little child,
born to die,
born to bear our griefs and die,
born to dwell with us who die,
weep with mothers now.
come dwell with us within our mess,
come hold our scars and cry our tears.
Weep with us all now.
Come, light in dark,
keep vigil now with broken hearts.
Hold all our tears within your scars
and hold us as we shake.
Arise, shine, for your light has come…
Then the Glory opens up, and the exposition begins…after the sheaves of night, the spirals of anxiety, here the triumph of love and the tears of joy – all the passion of our arms around the Invisible!…
Do you see a star unlike the others?
Have you watched through the ages, longing to see
this revelation, this epiphany?
To some without eyes, the night smothers;
and now, true, it lurks behind covers
of dark. But others, it beckons vividly:
those who press on through the dark, finally
to see the Morning resting yet nonethe-
less glorious, soon to shine all its Day
on mankind, those once far and those once near…
The silence is over; the patience yawns
for the fruits of dawn in sparkling array.
Be still before Him, newborn sons of dawn,
transfigured together, history made clear.
What is the Lord’s Prayer?
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we have also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
(New City Catechism)
Hands upraised, hands open
imploring yet worshipping
receiving yet giving
asking yet content
forgiven and forgiving
on earth, as it is in heaven;
daily caught in moments’ fear…
Our Father here and Heaven’s king:
teach us how to pray.
There were no drapes to hail Him king,
no cherubim in the background, aloft,
casually decking the scene, mid-song.
Yet this is right: if there were crowns,
they would be laid at His feet; and knees,
if wise, would know to bend.
We foresee the pious, in the corners, turned
toward their future king; and a long journey figured
in streets and hills, and horses mounting them.
The light’s far off, yet faces seem illumined.
Only the darker ones lack light: an error, this.
Epiphany brightens most the faces least expected here.
Not contained: the cost, the snorts of Herod,
the proud reflex to kill. All this smarts, demands
pensive faces show contrition to be brought here.
Is there room for us? We have no robes, King.
And yet, if cattle may rest above the frankincense,
we may also bow and drink Your light.
The teachers of the law deceive, devour;
The humble king is quizzed on His own law.
The pure in heart see God; the kingdom’s poor
Inherit what the rich lose with their power.
Great David’s greater Son knows that His hour
Is soon to come; He knows the loving score
Composed and tuned by Father’s plan. Before
The throne to come, there must be crowning thorns.
To those who, poor in spirit, turn toward
The face of favour – spat on, slapped and scorned –
By the tender mercy of our God,
In promise, faithful, sure in all darkness,
His dawn will break from high all over us.