A poem for Christmas Day

I’m writing this on Boxing Day as rain is hammering on the windows and lightning is splitting the sky. At some point during Advent (probably as I was listening to the Art & Theology Advent playlist), the penny dropped for me that the characters in the Christmas story would have felt a whole range of raw human emotions (‘Elizabeth’ by Katy Wehr, ‘Mary consoles Eve’ by Rain for Roots and ‘Maria’ by Reilly & Maloney all bring the biblical characters to life). I tend to forget this because I can’t see that spelt out for me in the Bible.

But Jesus was born as a baby and I’ve held a newborn in my arms and it wasn’t a very Christmas carol-like experience. In my case I was drenched in blood, sweat and tears and although I heard the cattle lowing at the time, I  discovered later that it was in fact me at my most bovine.

A few days ago I came across a poem by Kaitlyn Hardy Shetler which looks at Jesus’ birth from Mary’s perspective. These are the opening lines:

“sometimes I wonder
if Mary breastfed Jesus.
if she cried out when he bit her
or if she sobbed when he would not latch.”

Part of the power of poetry comes from the questions it raises and, while these are quite specific and the direction of the poem won’t appeal to everyone, I don’t think that detracts from the utterly brilliant and unromantic portrayal of the reality of birth, even the birth of the Son of God.

Today I was pointed to a Facebook post with the lyrics to Woody Guthrie’s song ‘Jesus Christ’ accompanied by a wanted poster for Jesus Christ drawn by Art Young.

Guthrie sings,
“He went to the sick, he went to the poor,
And he went to the hungry and the lame;
Said that the poor would one day win this world,
And so they laid Jesus Christ in his grave.”

I would agree that the Bible shows that Jesus was met with opposition from the ruling groups of the day, with their military and financial power, and from the religious authorities too. But the story does not end with Jesus’ death! So, while Woody Guthrie’s song contains elements of truth, it is a long way short of the whole story.

While it might not be possible to include all the elements of the good news about Jesus every time, leaving him in the grave is also a mistake I think.

So as I have been wondering about what the newly-born Jesus may have looked like, I have taken from the Bible some of what we do know about the risen Jesus from John’s vision on the island of Patmos, described in Revelation 1.

Here is the free text version of the poem.

Jesus, who was, who is and who is to come

Your cot a feeding trough
Tightly wrapped to
Warm your fragile form
Skin flaking
Eyes puffy
Toothless and tongue-tied

A gasp your first and final breath
Bound at birth
Bound to death

Once born but always existing
Once killed but now ever-living

Robed in brilliance
Eyes flaming
Skin darkly radiant as the sun
Dazzling in power
Tongue a sword unsheathed
Your enemies your footstool

Mystery of mysteries
Born into poverty
Emptied of glory
Clothed in our weakness
Bearing our brokenness
Taking on our curse
Disfigured by our sin
Torn from Your Father’s side

Now raised and glorious
Restored to majesty
Robed in victory
Righting all wrongs
Redeeming the fallen
Renewing the broken
You will make all things new

I’d love to hear your thoughts! Do you have a favourite poem about Advent or Christmas? Or have you written one?

One thought on “A poem for Christmas Day

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