Christmas 2: Never Faint Nor Fear

Today, as well as the day for the year’s biggest sales, is also Boxing Day and, as the mysterious carol “Good King Wenceslas” should remind us, St Stephen’s Day. Most likely the Stephen commemorated today was the one martyred in the Acts of the Apostles, so one tradition of today is to sing carols that remind us of his faith. It’s also a day traditionally not about spending but of giving: boxing up gifts to give to the poor, hence the name “Boxing Day”. Today’s poem, for the second day of Christmas, draws together these themes, via an old St Stephen’s Day carol of indeterminate age, played beautifully in this version.

Never Faint Nor Fear

The tree still stands, the presents gone;
They’re boxed and put away.
We rest our feet and pick at food
Left over from yesterday.

Saint Václav and his squire walk
Through snow and in Christ’s footsteps;
We follow signs instead that tell
Of bargains and tax offsets.

If Stephen sat amongst us here,
He’d wonder at our tinsel.
The red, perhaps, foreshadows blood?
So sing the old-time minstrels.

O never faint, and never fear,
Unless your debt be looming.
Pay back your credit card and watch
The lowly rose e’er blooming.

The child soon will mount the cross;
How well St Stephen knew this.
Yet do not dwell so long on that,
Lest it should ruin Christmas.

Instead, you might behold the sight:
The Son of Man is shining.
He climbed the tree, for you, for me,
In sin and error pining.

It is not yours to climb, and yet
The grace may prove contagious.
Let Christmas drive you out in storms
With love and gifts outrageous.

Krateo

Nicolas Poussin - Saint Pierre et saint Jean guérissant le boiteux, 1655
Nicolas Poussin – Saint Pierre et saint Jean guérissant le boiteux, 1655

While he clung to Peter and John, all the people, utterly astounded, ran together to them in the portico called Solomon’s…
(Acts 3:11)

Why cling?
Fear, perhaps. The crowd, after all,
lunged and lurched about,
amazed hands raised,
indignant, astonished;
how might this seem
to eyes which had beheld, rejected,
hands which had held and seized.
Too much too soon;
the world had not the ready hearts
it took to take such miracles to heart…
Clung, perhaps, to wait out the storm,
to see how would the crowd change shape,
and crowd and cloud the truth around him.
Clung, perhaps, for refuge.

Or did he cling as we must cling?
Cling as those before had failed.
Every day, the servant said,
I stood and taught, and never did
you seize me then. The failure spoke
much more than all their loud deeds could:
to behold, daily, yet not take hold,
to have in reach, yet never clutch,
to see open hands, yet never grip.

Now the servant’s servants stood
and he must cling – for life, for safety –
all this – yes –
yet also
joy: at strength in deadened limbs;
and power: for greater things would soon be done;
and trust: above all, trust. The Crucified
had power still!
No silver, no gold in hand; only the Name.
And to that Name        he clung.