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.

20 Contemplations #7: Crux

image
Marc Chagall, "White Crucifixion"

…he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
(Philippians 2:8)

Did He view the Cross from birth? Did crossbeams
In the stable tell Him where He’d go?
Did He see the Cross in treetops’ glow
As He flew to earth from Heaven’s beams?
Perhaps as Joseph carved at night, His dreams
Spoke to Him of timber, nails, a show
Of Roman triumph in their streets. He’d know
From birth, for He knows all. Yet did it seem
As though His life was bent to Cross? A sword
Would pierce His mother’s soul, so she was told
By Simeon, who declared that some would fall;
And as He learned to walk, to talk, to be
As humans are on earth, He knew from old
That cursed would be the man hung on a tree.

20 Contemplations #6: At Creation

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Anselm Kiefer, “Heaven on Earth (Himmel auf Erden)”

All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.
(John 1:3)

First birdsong and flight; new heavens groaning;
These things we cannot see. They precede
Sight, consciousness. All we know, he exceeds:
The Face behind the flame and the foaming.
Nothing made without Him: He moves across
Astronomy and microscope, photon
And planet, from star-studded sky to cross.
Is all this beyond us? Yet He is known;
Takes first steps, like Adam; like Adam, bleeds;
Descends to the stable, ascends the Tree;
Comes to His creation; it knows Him not,
Despised, rejected, a thing forgot.
No fanfare: behold the silent babe
In whom all things were made that were made.

 

Lent: The Wait, the Weight 3

Held down by denial,
oppressed by oblivion,
as torrents break we fancy them a whirlpool.
Nothing prepares for this crisis of self,
when the spirit, crying, How long, how long?
hears instead the call to crawl
into the dust and weep.

To whom have You dealt thus?
Yet no better are we who bear Your name and smirk
than those who know no different.
Beneath Your wounds, this is joy:
the outcome sure,
where cross and crown stand interwoven.
Remember us, Jesus, when You return.
We remember Your cross, and wait.

Lent: Man of Sorrows 6

And keep –
    keep me, keep watch, keep hope.
The pains that crush me are like pricks beside
Your agony, and yet
          You hold
arms out as though to gather in
more pain, more shame, and thus
           more me.
Man of sorrows,
        what a name,
        what a scheme
  that stretches out the heavens
  yet does not scorn these nails.
                                               Take
my proud sobbing, my heart’s throbbing; take
all my attempts to rise with Self.
Enfold me in Your scars and sing
      Your grace
    through endless days.

Lent: Man of Sorrows 4

Lay me down –

slow me down and lay me down

upon the Cross, in Jesus’ hands.

Slow my heart and silence all

the numb self-serving of my pleas;

stifle pride, unlock the clench

of fists deep in this fickle dust.

Lay me down, my soul;

lay down

my soul in Jesus’ hands. Their scars

have room enough for me.

 

Lent: Man of Sorrows 2

My God, my God:
head full of wounds, You cry.
My God, my God:
what rupture in the godhead
makes perfect veins now burst?
What depth of love plumbs so low
that even earth shakes at impact?

My God, my God, have mercy.
I wound my head and choose these depths;
yet, Man of Sorrows, You came down
that I might soar the heights with You.
If, dying now to self, I must
cry beside Your cross-shaped throne,
let me rejoice as well to know
what sorrows deck Your crown.