Thursday, December 22, 2011


Many preachers are confronted with a kind of awe at the great texts of Christmas and Easter, saying to ourselves, "What more can I say about so profound a story?" For a number of years my response to this has been to attempt a Christmas sermon in verse. I offer this one as my blog Christmas card.

Now Advent winds are bringing in the cold of winter,
and scattered stars glow with a chill and distant light.
The road to Bethlehem is getting ever darker –
and darker still before we come to Christmas Night.

Imagine, then, young Mary and her steadfast Joseph;
with little donkey clopping out a lonesome song,
she nods to dream, the child stirs, and she remembers
the message of an angel, now it seems so long

ago –  to her, and to the people of the promise.                                              
Her people have been waiting for these thousand years,
and she – for these nine months in which all time is folded –
has held all love: The answer to all hopes and fears.

Joseph’s hope, for now, is just to find that small inn,
a welcome place he’s heard of on the edge of town.
She’s tired and she’s cold – and soon they’ll be a family!
He’ll tell them, “Please, a bed so Mary can lie down….”

We, too, would add our voices after Joseph’s pleading,
“This is God’s mother – surely you can find a bed!”
But, no, God’s family comes this night in rags and tatters;
they’re lucky, after all, to get this straw instead.

And down through all the ages are so many searching,
like this poor young couple, as they seek to find
shelter, food, and friendship – and a new beginning:
A light ahead, the sad and weary road behind.

And even in our day of marvels, comfort, plenty;
chance can find a man, like that one you saw
homeless in the darkness as the winter gathers.
He, too, would welcome happily a bed of straw.

In Africa a mother’s life is much like Mary’s:
Gathering wood and water to get through each day.
Her Joseph on the road seeking work or barter,
as satellites spin on their high and starry way.

Our brothers in Colombia still live with danger –
like Israel’s people living in the grip of Rome.
This world, though history’s pages tell of many changes,
is still the world where Jesus’ family made their home.

The people in the darkness long to see that great light
promised long ago. So where is God to be
found? How will he save the people from their sorrow?
Will He work a wonder? Or is it that he

himself will be the miracle: God born among us,
not in golden wealth, but in that family –
Remember? – We were following them? They found a stable --
Look, there in that manger, could it… could it be…

A baby! Look! Here come a band of curious shepherds;
this is what the angel told them they would see.
This is why the heavens opened wide with glory
The savior of the nations is… a poor baby!

Rejoicing all around from these rowdy shepherds!
They tell their news to Mary, her eyes glow with tears.
In her heart she ponders all these words, and wonders
what life will bring their precious child down the years.

And, pondering, remembers her own angel’s message –
So filled with joy, and yet there was a shadow, too.
A son of mine?  To be the savior of the people?
Too much! But let it be: he’ll do what God must do.

And Joseph of the true heart will adopt this baby;
for love of Mary he will dearly love their child.
“Emmanuel” “God With Us” – Names the angel gave him –
but papa now must guard him in a world so wild.

Now see! Those cold and distant stars begin to gather
into a band of light and they bow to one:
One star among them shines a beam of love’s own brightness
upon the little scene: The birth of God’s own son!

And you, who like the shepherds, now have heard the good news,
like them you’ve heard what Heaven’s angels had to say,
now join your voice to theirs: shepherds, stars, and angels,
And sing that Jesus Christ the Lord is born today!

References to Africa and Colombia are a recognition of our congregation's companion churches in those places.