A Sign for You

Christmas 2003: The Nativity

Here is the newest iteration of my Christmas poem. Someday I will perfect it. I feel vindicated by Sinclair Ferguson, who writes here, Jesus did not come to add to our comforts. He did not come to help those who were already helping themselves or to fill life with more pleasant experiences. He came on a deliverance mission, to save sinners, and to do so He had to destroy the works of the Devil…There is, therefore, an element in the Gospel narratives that stresses that the coming of Jesus is a disturbing event of the deepest proportions.”

It was not an angelic chorus
he first heard, but his mother’s anguished cry.
His first breaths were
scented with dung,
first sight, some smears of blood.
So soon, to feel the earth rumble
with trampling horse’s hooves,
So soon to taste tears, and with Rachel, to lament.

Those smelly vagrants who visited,
those first to wonder at heaven’s exile —
saw an infant bound in cloths
laid in an animal’s trough,
nestled in a hollow
made in a cold stone, resting
like a corpse in a sarcophagus —
no radiant beams marked this advent.

Today we outfit the parents with halos,
snuggle a fat baby in a cosy blanket,
and sprinkle the scene with pretty angels
spangled in gold. We tell the story
voiced with British accents
for suburban flat screens, drenched in sentiment.
We strip the message of any darkness,
but it was for orphans and lepers and hookers,

it was for the night shift workers
He was anointed.
He came for haters of Christmas,
and of Him. Creation was still groaning
at His birth–because a dragon waited to devour Him!
That bright star leads  to a tomb.
The sign for you, yet still
is  cloth strips and hollowed-out stone.

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4 Comments on “A Sign for You”

  1. Karen Butler Says:

    Some background information might help you to understand this poem, with its imagery of a stone manger, cave and strips of cloth for swaddling, that for this poet point to gravecloths and a tomb.

    Though the stable is artistically depicted as a cosy wooden barn, it was more likely a cave. In 150 AD, Justin Martyr (approximately 100-165 AD), a Christian philosopher and writer, recorded how Jesus was born in a cave that was used as a stable.1 Additionally, in 326 AD, the Church of the Nativity was erected at the site of the cave that was traditionally held to be the birthplace of Christ. The manger may not have been made of wood either. Archeologists have excavated several stone mangers that date back to biblical times,2 and one is in lplace there at the grotto of the Church of the Nativity. Though the stable and the manger are almost always made of wood in elegant Italianate depictions of the scene, it is much more likely that they were both carved out of stone in the cave, at the original site.

    1 Justin Martyr. Dialogus 1xxviii.
    2 Maier, Paul L. In the Fullness of Time. Kregel Publications, 1997, pp. 38-41.

    Here is a Google Books link to the text of Maier’s book, that mentions these facts. Scroll down the to page 47 to see a photo of an actual stone manger that looks very like the ancient sarcophagi used by the Romans of that time. http://books.google.com/books?id=oGvZ-uGgs4EC&pg=PA44&dq=maier+paul+stone+manger&hl=en&ei=_sYbTY-eIYr6sAOW5IybDw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=2&ved=0CDEQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q&f=false

  2. Karen Butler Says:

    In addition, the image of the mother giving birth in agony, and the dragon waiting to devour the newborn, is drawn from this passage in Revelation 12:1-4

    And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth. And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it.

  3. Marty Davis Says:

    This took my breath away. Thank you.

    • Karen Butler Says:

      You encouraged me so much with your comment — thank you! Sometimes a poet feels like a voice alone, our culture does not respond to this kind of language. Christmas blessings to you, Marty.

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