Their star has risen in our hearts,
Empty thrones, abandoning fears,
Out on the hills their journey starts,
In dazzling darkness God appears.
~Judith Bingham “Epiphany”
…the scent of frankincense
arrives on the wind,
and I long
to breathe deeply,
to divine its trail.
But I know their uses
and cannot bring myself
to breathe deeply enough
whether what comes
is the fragrant welcoming
or simply covers the stench of death.
coming toward me,
is it swaddling they carry
~Jan Richardson from Night Visions –searching the shadows of Advent and Christmas
Unclench your fists
Hold out your hands.
Let us hold each other.
Thus is his Glory Manifest.
~Madeleine L’Engle “Epiphany”
All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
…I should be glad of another death.
~T.S. Eliot from “Journey of the Magi”
Imagine the Lord, for the first time,
from darkness, and stranded
Immensely in distance,
recognizing Himself in the Son
His homelessness plain to him now in a homeless one.
~Joseph Brodsky from “Nativity Poem” translated from Russian by Seamus Heaney
In the cold season, in a locality accustomed to heat more than
to cold, to horizontality more than to a mountain,
a child was born in a cave in order to save the world;
it blew as only in deserts in winter it blows, athwart.
To Him, all things seemed enormous: His mother’s breast, the steam
out of the ox’s nostrils, Caspar, Balthazar, Melchior—the team
of Magi, their presents heaped by the door, ajar.
He was but a dot, and a dot was the star.
Keenly, without blinking, through pallid, stray
clouds, upon the child in the manger, from far away—
from the depth of the universe, from its opposite end—the star
was looking into the cave.
And that was the Father’s stare.
~Joseph Brodsky “Star of the Nativity”
The Christmas season is now a wrap,
the lights put away for another year.
Yet our hearts are not so easily packed and stored.
Our troubles and concerns go on;
the pandemic numbers soar,
our frailty a daily reality.
We can be distracted with holidays for a few weeks,
but our time here slips away ever more quickly.
The Christmas story is not just about
light and birth and joy to the world,
magi following a star
to discover they are reborn in Light themselves.
It is about how His swaddling clothes
became a shroud that wrapped Him tight
for only three days.
There is not a birth without His death;
even when we try to store Him away,
neatly wrapped to pull out in another year.
Christ does not stay on the closet shelf.
God came to be with and among us;
Delivered so He could deliver.
Planted on and in the earth.
Born so He could die in our place
and leave the linen strips behind, neatly folded.
Advent: an interminable wait in the darkness
Christmas: an unwrapping of the ultimate gift of life
Epiphany: the Father watches us from afar
to see how the Seed He sent takes root in our hearts,
dazzling our darkness.