December 21, 2007

Pregnant Pause

I wrote this today, imagining what went through Zacharias’s mind when the angel Gabriel appeared to him (Luke 1.8-18); what he thought about in his year of silence (Luke 1.19-20); and how he was so ready to burst forth in messianic song as soon as his lips were opened (Luke 2.57-79). Highlighted sections are links to the Scripture passages I am paraphrasing/extrapolating.

I wish that I could speak—could shout—
And spread that angel’s words about
In villages among the hills;
In brothels where men get their thrills;
And temples where man’s pride is rife.
But I can’t even tell my wife.

How foolish I! How slow of heart!
I thought the horse behind the cart.
“This news—a son? That sounds absurd”
Was my reply to heav’nly word
From angel lips untried by sin.
“You see the wrinkles on my skin,
And come to me with stories wild:
‘Old Zach and Lizzie bear a child!’
I’ve prayed, I know—that’s what priests do—
And told my wife about it too.
She’s smiles, looks down, and bats her eyes
Like girls whose hope is to disguise
A crush. She tucks her hair, now gray
Behind her ears. ‘What can I say’
She says, ‘but God is truly good.’

She’s just been saying what she should.
But how can I believe this news?
Messiah comes to save the Jews—
And old Zach and Elizabeth
Will bear a son to blaze His path!
Come on! How’ bout you show a sign,
To prove that this is God’s design."

Those were the last words that I spoke.
To prove his words were not a joke
That angel wired shut my jaws—
Nine months, so far, of pregnant pause.

We’ll have a son—they all can tell
From watching Lizzie’s belly swell.
‘God has been good’ they stop to say.
‘Old Zach, you’ve taught us how to pray.’
I wish they knew it wasn’t me.
My faith is like an olive tree—
All shriveled, gnarled, twisted, stooped—
In spite of myself, yielding fruit.
I’d like to preach to them of grace—
How all of us, the human race,
Are like a barn, whose paint is old;
Whose wood is cracked and filled with mold;
Whose roof is gone; whose rafters sag.
Our righteousness is filthy rags.”
And when their eyes and hearts are full
With tears, to say: “Your sins, like wool
And like the driven snow shall be,
Though now a crimson, bloody sea
Rejoicing as I am, you see,
To have a boy for Liz and me,
My thoughts are wrapped like balls of twine—
I cannot put it out of mind—
The other boy the angel said
Would soon lay down his holy head
Upon another mother’s breast.
This was the news that sounded best
Of all. Messiah comes to save;
To rescue us from shallow graves
We’ve dug ourselves with our own hands,
With picks of cruelty in the sands
Of sin. Messiah will not fail
To enter in behind the veil
That I, the priest, could never cross.
He’ll enter in through pain and loss
Of His own blood—just like the ram
God gave to father Abraham.
A substitute absorbs the rod,
And opens up the way to God.

And so I set this poem down,
And I’ll recite it in the town,
In villages among the hills;
In brothels where men get their thrills;
To priests, like me, whose faith is weak…
And in my heart until I speak.
I’ll tell them, yes, about my son,
But focus the other One:

“Blessed be the God of Israel
Who saves His people from the hell
That they deserve, and has raised up
A full and overflowing cup
Of grace—salvation comes to man.
Messiah comes from David’s clan
Just like God said in days of old,
And prophets spoke with valor, bold:
‘Salvation from our enemies’
And mercy from the Lord who’s pleased
To keep His promises of grace,
His covenant with Abram’s race:
That we might serve Him all our years
In holiness and without fears.
And my son, so the angel says,
Has come to pave Messiah’s ways.
To preach about the One who wins.
Forgiveness of His people’s sins.”

I’ll save this for my son, I think,
So that when he is on the brink
Of preaching, as the Lord has said,
That he will have it in his head
That priv’leged as His lot may be,
He never will the Bridegroom be,
But publish this from east to west:
He must increase; I must be less.”

No comments: