December 26, 2006

Christmas Poem, 5

Lost Sheep! That’s who the Shepherd’s for!
Considering why God chose to reveal Christ first to shepherds (Luke 2.8), and what they may have felt like that night.

With moon hung low behind the trees
Josiah bent his creaking knees,
And with a low and muffled groan
Sat down, his back against a stone.
His face was old, his cheeks were drawn.
His eyes were dim, his hair was gone.
And like a leather shoe, his skin
Was tough and creased, but gentle when
He smiled—especially round his eyes
Where flesh was pinched like when one ties
A goatskin tight with corn silk twine—
A bottle filled with fresh red wine.
The skin will harden, dry, and crack—
Yet house the best wine in the rack.
That was Josiah—great in years,
His wrinkles carved by many tears.
But inside beat a heart of flesh
Where tenderness and zeal could mesh.

He’d wield his rod to guard the sheep
And tell old yarns to beat back sleep.
The rest of us would squeeze in close
Like lepers, for a healing dose
Of truth and grace from ‘Siah’s lips.
His tales came in like mighty ships
From distant lands, with golden yields—
And yet he’d never left these fields.

He was a shepherd, just like we,
Who for a measly beggar’s fee,
With flute to while the hours away
Would work all night and sleep by day;
And come home with a muddy gown;
And keep his home at edge of town.
He smelled like sheep, and like his dog.
He’d been banned from the synagogue.
O yes—he was a pious sort—
But ‘unclean’ by the high priest’s court.
Our shepherds’ task is crude and mean.
Some Sabbath’s he would not be seen
At meeting time because a sheep
Had crumpled in a broken heap,
Or hurled itself upon a rock,
Or cut itself off from the flock.
So like the other shepherds he
Was spit on by the Pharisee.
And because he could not afford
A Paschal Lamb to give the Lord
(Or sometimes to have meat for dinner)
He was an outcast and a sinner.

Yes, he watched sheep, but they weren’t his.
They took them for the Temple ‘biz’—
The priests—so they could line the folds
Of priestly garments with pure gold.
A pawn in a religious game,
Still, ‘Siah called upon the Name.

Straight from the Bible, all his tales—
Of parting sees and giant whales,
Of milk and honey from Gods’ store,
Of kings when they go out to war.
But all the yarns that he would spin—
One thread ran through time and again—
The story of a coming King
Who’d ride in while the people sing;
Who’d love the shepherds and the thieves;
Who’d forgive ev’ryone who grieves
For sin—religious or out cast;
Who’d blot out all our filthy past;
Whose blood, just like a Paschal Lamb,
Would satisfy the great I AM.
We all, like sheep, astray in sin,
But God would lay it all on Him!

‘For us?’ we’d say. ‘How can this be?
For us and not the Pharisee?’
‘For all,’ he said, ‘who turn from vice
And trust this Shepherd’s sacrifice.
For Pharisees with vain conceit;
For shepherds with their dirty feet;
The harlot with her painted face;
For heathen of the Gentile race.’

We’d laugh. He’d heard our boastful lies.
He’d seen us walk with bloodshot eyes
Back into town at dawn’s first light,
So drunk we could not see aright.
He’d heard us lash our razor tongues
And watched us fill our desperate lungs
With smoke of hash and pride of life,
And how each man would treat his wife.
And most—he knew the synagogues—
How they saw us as hollow logs,
Twice dead, uprooted, worthless waste.
We were not of religious taste.
And yet he’d tell us all the more:
‘Lost sheep! That’s who the Shepherd’s for!
His lambs He’ll come and gather in—
Even the ones who’ve strayed from Him!’

But still we’d drink and still we’d cuss—
‘Messiah will not come for us’
We’d say. ‘You know not where we’ve been.
For all you’ve said, we’re still unclean.’
Besides, if this Messiah comes
He will not waste His time with bums
And rabble here in Bethlehem.
He’ll ride into Jerusalem!
He’ll visit Kings, and eat with priests
Not with us and our mangy beasts!

Our friend would stretch a leathered smile
Across his face. ‘A little while
And you will see that you are wrong.
And then you all will join my song!’

But scoff we did with all our might.
Until one cold and gusty night
We sat and felt the wind grow still
The way the wise men say it will
Before a storm—and we grew stiff.
And then, as though a giant rift
Had torn through heaven’s starry scroll
Like lighting, but without the roll
Of thunder—just a blazing light.
And angel dressed in dazzling white—
His waste cinched with a golden band,
A burning scepter in his hand—

We fell down on our faces.
And, like that light, flashed all the places—
Raunchy, lewd—that we had been,
The lies we’d told, our boasting wind.
And on our cheeks, like guilty blood,
Now hung the grass, the urine, mud,
And filth left by a hundred sheep.
It symbolized how poor, how cheap,
And how unclean we beggars were.

The next few moments were a blur.
All we could do was burrow down
Our faces further in the ground
And wait for him to wield his rod
With all the wrath of holy God
And crack our ribs and break our teeth
Like wolves who’d come to play the thief.

We lay in slop what seemed like years
Until he said, “Push back your fears!
I did not come here to destroy
But to announce a baby boy;
And with good news of joy and mirth
For all the peoples of the earth!
Tonight in David’s little town
Of Bethlehem, amid the sound
Of sheep, of oxen crunching hay—
And in such mire as you now lay,
A Savior’s born for Pharisees
And men of state with high degrees—
But also for the harlot cheap,
And for the men who watch the sheep!”

So Come to Christ! Come one, come all.
Come not, though, to a lavish hall,
But to a manger filled with straw.
Come you who have not kept the Law.
Come to a cross and see the cost
Christ paid to rescue all His lost
And wayward sheep, so far astray.
Come all you sinners, come today!
Christ has flung wide the heav’nly door!
Lost sheep! That’s who the Shepherd’s for!

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