Words needed for a 21st C Christmas

Posted: 25 December 2015 in On the Pilgrim's Road, Poems
Tags: , , , , ,

How do we express God’s special expedition that is Christmas for a new babe (not a relative)generation? Something that captures the less-is-more to the point of complete self offering.  In a way that makes sense to the 21st century. Often we trot out the familiar words that are closer to James Stewart (“It’s a Wonderful Life”) or Charles Dickens (“A Christmas carol”), than the original vision.

This poem (below), used in Benjamin Britten’s “A Ceremony of Carols”, expresses the bizarre ironies of God-coming-in-might as a baby, in terms of a renaissance army with all it’s force. The poet made the contrasts so vivid, striking. Read on:

Poem: New Heaven, New War

This little babe, so few days old,
Is come to rifle Satan’s fold;
All hell doth at his presence quake.
Though he himself for cold do shake,
For in this weak unarmèd wise
The gates of hell he will surprise.

With tears he fights and wins the field;
His naked breast stands for a shield;
His battering shot are babish cries,
His arrows looks of weeping eyes,
His martial ensigns cold and need,
And feeble flesh his warrior’s steed.

His camp is pitchèd in a stall,
His bulwark but a broken wall,
The crib his trench, hay stalks his stakes,
Of shepherds he his muster makes;
And thus, as sure his foe to wound,
The angels’ trumps alarum sound.

My soul, with Christ join thou in fight;
Stick to the tents that he hath pight;
Within his crib is surest ward,
This little babe will be thy guard.
If thou wilt foil thy foes with joy,
Then flit not from this heavenly boy.

By Robert Southwell (1561-1595 martyred)
Find on YouTube on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TRS2Dt-3uI4

Southwell makes the contrasts so vivid, striking. Though our challenges are so different, are there writers out there reading this, spurred to replicate the vigour of this poem in the modern context of affluenza and loneliness? Let me know.

Bill
Christmas Day 2015 AD

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