Let’s see if we can put ourselves back into the scene of the old story so that its full impact hits us again, despite our familiarity with its details. Naturally, a Petrarchan Sonnet is just the way to do that.
The shepherds had no word for paradox
(A learned term), but scratching of the head
Was something that they knew, and as they sped
Toward Bethlehem, abandoning their flocks,
And stumbling in their haste upon the rocks,
They did some over what the angel’d said:
Messiah in a manger for a bed?
A king whose courtiers were ass and ox?
Perhaps the biggest part of the surprise
Was that they were the ones who should be told:
This savior did not seem to fit the mold
Constructed by the Mighty and the Wise.
To stable smells and angels’ caroling,
Condemned and incognito came the King.
Remember: for more poetry like this, go to https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order Stars Through the Clouds! Also look for Inklings of Reality and Reflections from Plato’s Cave, Williams’ newest books from Lantern Hollow Press: Evangelical essays in pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. And look for Williams’ very latest book, Deeper Magic: The Theology behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis, from Square Halo Books!
Donald T. Williams, PhD
It is now 1984-5. I continue serving as pastor of the First Evangelical Free Church of Marietta, GA. The discipline of weekly biblical exposition is showing up in my poetic life, while inspiration from my other reading and from Nature both continue. The resulting mix was (to me, at least) quite interesting. What makes this sonnet interesting is the ironic understatement of the last line.
Thoughts of a Night Watchman
“The elements are simple: flesh, and stone,
Shroud, seal, silence, watching guard,
Dew, lingering smell of myrrh and nard;
Deserted by his friends, he lies alone.
A prophet, touted once for David’s throne,
A good man and a healer—but he jarred
Their consciences just once too often—hard—
And so became a bag of rotting bone.”
“We’ve seen a lot of cases: other men—
Messiahs always end up in a tomb,
The elements the same. As you’d assume,
Their names are never heard on earth again—
And this one’s won’t be either, I dare say.”
It was almost the dawn of the third day.
Remember: for more poetry like this, go to https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order Stars Through the Clouds! Also look for Inklings of Reality and Reflections from Plato’s Cave, Williams’ newest books from Lantern Hollow Press: Evangelical essays in pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.
Donald T. Williams, PhD
The newborn Messiah came with a host of names, including Immanuel, “God with us.” And almost His final words were “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” It is difficult, living in the midst of a comfortably secular society, to be properly astounded by the import of these words. The secular attitudes of our culture can have more influence on our lives than the orthodox beliefs we think we hold. We sometimes find it hard to pin down exactly what difference it would make in our daily lives if He were not with us at all.
There is a phrase from an 11th century Christmas play that helps remind me of the profound seriousness of the fact that Christ is with us. On the way back to his flock after visiting the holy family, one of the shepherds exclaims, “Stabulo ponitur qui continet mundum“: “He is placed in a stable who contains the world.” The language is poetry but the content is literal fact. In his divine nature, the baby in that manger did contain and uphold the world–and still does.
The shepherd’s lines can be paraphrased without losing their terrifying truth. It is He who contains the world who is in the midst of his Church, indeed, in my own heart by the agency of his Holy Spirit. This blows away the cobwebs of habitual secularity and leaves us naked before a flaming sword. “Lo, I am with you always.” There is comfort indeed in these words, but it is a comfort that must, in more ways than one, begin with “Fear not!”
For more on the meaning of Christmas from Dr. Donald T. Williams, see his books at the Lantern Hollow Press store.