I have been there in the festal throng,
the waving of palms,
the shouting of Psalms:
Hosanna – the highest – hosanna.
And I have felt the surge of pride
to see my king, as prophesied,
come in, triumphantly, astride
his Zechariah-steed, and I
confess that I have hoped to find
what, in the end, was more than I
had ever bargained for.
I’ve been there, too, by the fireside,
warming my hands and telling lies.
I too have hidden in the night,
afraid of my king’s disgrace.
Messiah: my soul is a fruitless figtree.
When you come to your temple, I will wither
at the sight of your certain summer.
Cast off my false foliage, and let me dwell
in your shade when you return.
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.
The oath must still hold true yet waiting dries expectation;
the dew of your youth evaporates in the tomb.
Now: what the LORD said to David’s Lord is unchanged,
but the rods of foes seem the triumphant ones today.
Only Pilate’s wife regrets the washing of hands; only women weep.
Only in secret do we take your body to its tomb.
In the morning, with spices and sorrow we will greet
your right hand and your nail-torn feet,
with your king’s footstool too heavy to roll away,
and something like morning tackling deadened hearts.
Drink by the brook as you wait, if you can;
silence might hold some promise in this night of nights.
I was not ready:
You came when I was sleeping,
At my least expected midnight.
Reality shook - this veil we call
"The way things are"; angels sang
And shepherds danced, but I -
Exhausted by normality -
Dozed while, in a baby's cry,
Four hundred years of silence found
Their end-point in this night.
Arise, little ones.
Though in your smallness you cannot see
Beyond the faint horizon:
He comes, he comes,
Across the seas,
Bearing light upon his brow.
To those despised deeply,
Abhorred by the world,
He comes bearing folly, to weaken the wise;
He sweeps the vast coastlands,
His mouth is a sword,
Yet he will not lift his voice.
And silently he falls to soil,
A kernel, broken, to spread its seed
And bring in a harvest of plenty.
Arise, little ones:
He takes in the weak, beleaguered and small
And makes them children of light.