Poem for Christmas Eve
This is a love story, if you can accept it,
that God the father looked down at his world
and the world was like a sleeping, fitful child
and the child was spoiled.
Its nations called each other names
and roamed earth's playground like a gang of boys
who choose sides, always brandishing
their terrifying toys.
world thought it was fatherless and hunted
restlessly for some new sign or token
as if Christmas had come and gone, its presents
all unwrapped,already broken,
the father God looked at his child
and counted the cost of love's freedom: but he had a plan,
to step from out of time and into history
and become a man.
eternity to find the spot he chose
with the greatest care. One night a workman stood
in a barn with a group of animals
watching the birth of God
out on the hills some shepherds were astonished
as a skyful of angels appeared then disappeared,
and a few astrologers saw a change in the stars
they'd studied for years
almost everyone else knew nothing.
Caesar turned and settled in his luxurious bed
while in Bethlehem the power and the glory
bawled for milk in a shed.
was quite an entrance. The only Son of God
homeless, illegitimate, a refugee,
owning nothing but the world that he grew up in
had made himself quite empty,
birth itself a kind of dying where
he abdicated power, omniscience,
was needy, hated and misunderstood
and after the last violence
was laid in the womb of a grave for the birth
which Bethlehem merely anticipated
and for which the blind, brave, barricaded
spoiled world waited—
sage or rustic came with gifts,
only some women, hopelessly brave,
brought spices in the dark of morning
to an empty grave.
Two deaths, two births, the manger and the cross:
the first brought hope, the second brought salvation.
Out of his poverty this child has made us rich
and on a winter evening in a suburban home
a father looks down at his sleeping child.
The room is warm and brightly lit. Outside
the night is darkly wild,
the child that sleeps knows well that she is loved,
and in her bones knows how to disobey,
and she will learn that none is innocent,
that death takes all away,
and the father looking at her peaceful face
feels his own helplessness and counts the cost
of the love between them in a spoiled world
where all must end in loss
for Bethlehem and Calvary. These births
have brought an end to death,
and the child in the manger is the Lord
we feed on in our hearts by faith
now and forever. Child, if you would wake
on this Christmas Eve outside you'd find
a star, not a streetlamp. Listen, you can hear
the angels' message in the wind.
Written for the carol service at St John's, West Ealing in 1988: the first of thirty years of carol service poems.
In a public reading, in the last five verses the word 'suburban' might be replaced by (say) 'rural' or 'seaside', and 'father' by 'mother' or by 'couple', as appropriate to the reader and setting. In the original the setting was 'a London home' and the father and child are me and my daughter Emma, who was then 22 months old.
Calvary is the shortened Anglicised form of the Latin name Calvariae Locus (meaning "the place of the skull") for the place of crucifixion of Christ. This in turn derived from the Greek version ("Golgolta") of the Aramaic name with that meaning. It may be, however, that the Aramaic meant "the mount of execution".
Typical performance time: 3 minutes 15 seconds.
© Godfrey Rust 1988, firstname.lastname@example.org. See here for permissions.