December 23, 2014

2014 Christmas Poem: Good News, Great Joy for People All

I've just completed this year's Christmas poem ... to be read, Lord willing, at our worship gathering tomorrow night.  Read it below the page break, or download the Word document and/or the mp3.

And here's a link to the whole collection of Christmas poems, from 2002 until now.

Good News, Great Joy for People All
Pondering the words of the angel in Luke 2.10 – “I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people” (NASB®, emphasis added) – and then placing the American church (myself included) into the shoes of a shepherd at Bethlehem … and pondering how prone we are to overlook those around us, not seeing them as Jesus sees.

All cratered like the moon it was –
that soldier’s helmet – crimson fuzz
where plumes once danced in swaying pride
like pagans round a fire. One side
was streaked with rust like flowing tears.
I’ve kept it in my trunk for years
buried beneath old cloaks, and shoes,
and whatnots I no longer use.
But in nostalgia, now and then,
I dig them up , rememb’ring when
I was a boy.

We’d made a toy
of this headgear, plucked up with joy
one muddy Friday, from a ditch
beside a road where wagons pitch,
and chariots reel. The ruts are deep,
the potholes harsh, the drop-off steep.
And so it is when coaches lurch,
and luggage tumbles from its perch,
that trav’ler’s of the genteel sort
do not always take up the sport
of skimming through the gulley’s muck
and risking getting further stuck …
but leave their lesser treasures lie
‘til little boys come sifting by
And pan them out like hidden gold –
Each with a story to be told.

This crown of armor surely, too,
A hist’ry had beyond my view –
A man who’d donned it on a march
perhaps – his neck as stiff as starch,
his head held high, his chin straight out,
beside his comrades on their route.
Perhaps he’d worn it on the field,
absorbing blows against his shield,
and giving blows with gritted teeth,
blood spilling to the ground beneath.
Perhaps he had a wife, and girls;
a little boy, head lush with curls;
an anxious mother waiting news –
her son now stationed with the Jews.

But what had I do to do with Rome,
and soldiers all too near my home?
We did not see them quite like us –
these men who’d drink, and snarl, and cuss.
They were a distant sort of clan.
We were the sons of Abraham.
And so I did not ponder much
the man whose hair this bronze did touch,
whose sweat once trickled down its rim,
whose head on battlefield did swim
with thoughts of home, and death, and life,
and who would bring news to his wife
if he should fall.

I was a boy.
This helmet just another toy.
Sometimes I’d wear it out with pomp –
my marching more a childish stomp.
And, thrusting with my mother’s broom,
I’d vanquish ev’ry foe of Rome!
And other times Rome was the foe:
the headgear placed on our scarecrow!
And like David, of whom I’d read,
I’d sling smooth stones straight at its head!
That’s where it got most of its dents,
and chinks, and scrapes. Not from some prince
with crushing blows defending lands
now gobbled up by Caeasar’s bands;
but in my father’s onion patch,
and from the battle plans I’d hatch.

Soon I was old enough to tend
my father’s flock. And he would send
me out into the rolling hills,
where green and yellow glory spills
like ink from heavenly Author’s wells;
and where the dippers cast their spells,
and wonders written in the sky
declare the praise of God most high!

Some nights the helmet came with me,
and I would tie it to a tree,
and sling my stones as when a child,
with fellow shepherds in the wild.
No bone to pick with Rome, as such.
We didn’t ponder Caesar much,
for good or ill; nor much his troops.
Our minds were on our chicken coops,
and on our barley, milk, and sheep.
For Gentiles we did not lose sleep.
They were a simple fact of life,
their presence piping down the strife
that may have come from neighb’ring lands
without centurions and their bands.

But they were them, and we were we,
As different as the land and sea.
Beneath the helmets faceless men
who did a job, went home again,
and left some treasures in their wake,
and for good conversation make.
‘Those foreigners’, no less, no more –
so different to the very core.


But then one night, with helmet tied
onto a tree trunk’s moonlit side –
believe me when I tell you this,
my sanity is not amiss! –
one night as we sat watching flocks,
an angel stood with glowing locks
between us and the tree. He spoke!
My face I covered with a cloak,
so bright his heavenly visage beamed:
the way the sunlight sometimes gleamed
off Roman headgear on parade.
‘Good news I bring, be not afraid’
he said. ‘Down beside Bethl’em’s walls,
around about the cattle stalls,
you’ll find a babe in swaddling clothes,
laid in a trough where donkeys nose
around to find their food. Good news!
Messiah, promised to the Jews
has come as Savior, and as Christ!’

But, as if that had not sufficed,
He said what I’d not yet embraced:
‘This good news is for every race.’
How unmistakable his call:
‘Good news, great joy for people all.’

What took place next was awesome! Grand!
The heav’nly host o’erspread the land,
and sang the most majestic song
of praise to God.

Who knows how long
I sat in wonder at it all.
Such things can make the minutes crawl.
But when I found myself alert,
my heart still pounding in my shirt,
the first object that pierced my sight,
was that old helmet … in new light.

The man who’d borne it had a face,
a name … and yes, a need for grace.
Yes, he was from a distant shore,
But that should make me love him more!
I saw it clear as winter’s sky:
the Christ did not descend from high
above the earth to set His eye
only on people just like me –
but on faces I did not see
before; to be praised in all tongues;
To save people from all the rungs
on man-made ladders of success;
from all the tribes from east to west!

‘Good news, great joy for every race’
means every person has a face!


So listen, church. The angel’s word
is one that you have often heard.
But do not let it slip your mind,
nor let your neighbors be defined
by how they’re different from you.
Remember they have faces, too –
and hopes, and dreams, and loves, and goals;
and most of all, immortal souls.
So do not miss the angel’s call:
‘Good news, great joy for people all.’

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