This is how the child leads:
A shepherd charged with feeding the grieved
takes every stone hate hurls at him;
a king and his page trudge through charity’s snow;
boxes are filled with surplus things;
the lion lies down with the lamb.
We who eat from Plenty’s horn,
flush with leftovers, paper scraps,
beneath the season’s plenty-green tree:
look where the child goes;
watch Him grow and mark His steps –
Stephen, Wenceslas, and all
who’ve eyes to see, come see.
There were perhaps others
on the look-out for kings that day,
scouring the glossy mags,
checking out the trendy spots,
tracking every star on the rise.
It was easy enough with the census on
and everyone back to their homes,
easy to know who would be where
(and no-one who was anyone would ever be there,
in a no-name backwater, in a cave full of stock feed).
Busily tracking celebrities’ tweets,
they would have missed
the teenage mother and her sheepish bloke
(not even the father, the word on the street went),
whose eyes were careworn enough to spot
the angel singing praise, whose knees
were weathered enough to bend with heaven’s wind,
and whose minds, trained to recall
their Shepherd’s Almanac of facts,
had not forgotten the promised day
when lion and lamb would meet as friends,
and a little child would lead.
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.