By Rev Jennie Gordon
Christmas, they say, is a ‘family time’. In most families there will be at least one empty chair, an absence amongst those present, for whatever reason. As we get older the table might be filled with new family, partners and children’s children, as the candles of remembrance multiply.
These poems began with my little sister. When you’re grieving it helps to find routines and practices that give your body somewhere to go, brings a creative focus for your mind and allows the Spirit in, to refresh your soul. After she died, my father and I found weekly time together to read, to listen and to write a collection of poems and prayers based on the Revised Common Lectionary. These poems are from our book, Dad and Daughter and represent that five-year journey we shared.
Working night shift as a midwife means that the midnight Christmas Eve service has always been my favourite. For many years after I was ordained, a friend would come to where I was leading worship and offer an angelic ‘O Holy Night’. Bedside, she sang my sister’s passage home with that same song.
Wherever you are this season, may these poems find a way to bring you blessing. May they creep in beside you and birth a new hope, screaming with life, cradled with love.
Rev Jennie Gordon is in placement as Resource Minister, Pastoral, with the Presbytery of Gippsland. A digital copy of Dad and Daughter is available for a donation to the Act for Peace – Christmas Bowl Appeal, by contacting Jennie at firstname.lastname@example.org
Here are three poems taken from Dad And Daughter, with accompanying reflections:
Luke 2: 1-14 (15-20)
the receiving blanket was warm
under my arm
to catch and keep the heat
time stretched out like toffee
oozed into the corners of the room
sticky and ungraspable
night noises made their way
piercing the membranes of possibility
the world lingered
just beyond the door
straining for a sound
when he arrived
I felt his warmth and weight
watched him breathe
dried and kissed his head
and gave him to his mother
who tucked him
into her heart
and counted his fingers and toes
Reflection by Anneke Oppewal
At Christmas time we are reminded that Jesus needed fathering and mothering. That the divine, when it turns up in our world needs attending to and attention, a warm blanket, a quiet space, open arms and a welcoming kiss from us who know what hides in the shadows of the world outside, waiting to receive this bundle of life and light in a different way.
God becomes present in the night as we catch flickers of light and love. A door stands open, a woman bears the pain of birth, a father accepts the role of tending to a new beginning incarnating in vulnerable flesh. God, the divine, has fingers and toes, cries and shows the toothless smile of an infant that needs a nappy change. Falls asleep in Mary’s arms, reaches up to Joseph to be lifted on to shoulders, rocking him until the cramps in his tummy start to ease. A baby that has no other option but to entrust himself to others, trust that those who welcomed him will protect and care for him, creating space for him to flourish and mature.
In the shadows, the cross already stands waiting. Like so many other parents over the ages the hearts of those who received, welcomed and nurtured him will break with the grief of another life lost to the senseless cruelty of violence and injustice. God is there, said Eli Wiesel, right there where the innocent are made to suffer, showing up in the middle of the deepest darkest night and taking on their flesh.
God turns up, as a part of a displaced young family, turns up in the shelters of refugee camps across the world, turns up where two people welcome a little bundle of life into their hearts and home, wherever that may be, and are prepared to give of themselves in love no matter how much heartbreak may follow. Make room for hope, take care of what is entrusted to them to nurture it and help it grow.
It could be you and it could be me. Invited to make room, pay attention, count the fingers and toes of hope and love that is seeking for a place to come home to. Called to love and give shelter as much as we can. Even if it is only a little. Feed it, nourish it so it can grow and give the Divine a chance to incarnate again, love taking on flesh, opening doors into the night, letting the light in.
leaving the fields
Luke 2: (1-7), 8-20
you find us
in the midst of our routine lives
doing what we always do
and frighten us
with tremendous glory
and if we dare
we leave the fields
to see for ourselves
to seek the sign
to find the love born for us
and when we’ve made it known
we’ll bring it home
with endless songs of wonder
if we dare
Reflection by Lisa Carey
I have been thinking of this poem for weeks now. It has circulated in my head – and my heart. It is both a challenge and a promise. Some days I feel that the challenge is just too big for me. I have been thinking about bravery, the depth of my faith – what would it take for me to leave all I know? Other days I think about how I talk about my faith and how I live it out into the wider community. The promise of love born for us and the knowledge that it is to be shared.
I love sitting by a campfire on a chilly winter’s night, looking up at the sky and the millions and millions of stars that you can only see from the bush. One night, I saw a meteor burn up as it flashed across the sky. It was one of those things that you cannot adequately describe to others. It was both terrifying and awe-inspiring.
I wonder what I would have done if I was one of those shepherds? Just doing my job, out in the hills, minding my own business – probably sitting around a fire keeping warm in the cool of the evening with my work mates.
Blinded by the great light and noise of a sky full of angels.
Would I run and try to hide behind a boulder? Pull my rug over my head to block it all out? Would I hold my breath wondering if we were all doomed (which I did when I saw the meteor – I obviously watch way too many disaster movies!).
Or would I dare to leave the known to venture into the unknown, the unfamiliar? Would I recognise the signs – would I believe enough to discover more, leaving my comfort zone to seek out the answer to the call …
Matthew 1: 18-25
God with us
Spirit shaped scandal
conscious of the dreams of sleep
awake to the gift
obedient to life
God with us
sign that is not static
risking the passage of birth
the promise; alive
bewildered and bewildering
God with us
to be born
Reflection by Rev Dr Jong Soo Park
The core of Christmas is the incarnation of Jesus; the Word became flesh. The miraculous event was the climax of God’s revelation, the highlight of God’s love for us. It is noted that like other divine works, it was not God’s one-man show, but an amazing collaborative work with ordinary people.
Mary was a country woman who had nothing special; Joseph was a carpenter, a working-class man; the three wise men were ethnic minorities and strangers; and the shepherds were local hired hands, some of the most marginalised in those days. They were all run-of-the-mill, but their roles were special in completing God’s salvation plan.
The way that God has worked with human beings reveals clearly who our Lord is. Particularly, our God is a personal God. He likes communicating and interacting with his people rather than commanding them unilaterally from ‘up there’; he prefers working together to working alone; he shows no discrimination when calling people to the divine ministry; and he is always willing to bring himself down to our level to communicate, like parents trying to connect with their children. Jesus’s incarnation, the event of Emmanuel – God with us – shows most dramatically the identity of God.
In this miracle, Mary, Joseph, the three Magi and the local shepherds were like a bridge connecting their neighbours to God the Emmanuel, which shows what our ultimate purpose is. Not only they, but we were called to make the wonders of Emmanuel known to our family and friends, to our neighbours and even strangers in our community and beyond.
What’s remarkable is that the incarnation of Jesus is not a one-time happening, but is an ongoing event because God’s salvation ministry is not finished yet. Although Jesus might not be born as a baby again, his incarnation will still happen in mysterious ways here in this place; the miracle of Emmanuel will not stop until all human beings can be restored.
In this regard, American theologian Ron Rolheiser argues as follows: “The incarnation began with Jesus, and it has never stopped … God takes on flesh so that every home becomes a church, every child becomes the Christ-child, and all food and drink become a sacrament. God’s many faces are now everywhere, in flesh, tempered, and turned down, so that our human eyes can see him.”
Yes, the divine incarnation, started with Jesus, has never stopped. God still takes on flesh so that every one of us can see and meet him personally. To do this, he always looks for another Mary, Joseph, the Magi, and the shepherds who are “conscious of the dreams of sleep, awake to the gift, obedient to life”, who hold “the promise; alive bewildered and bewildering”. Through those who say “yes” to the divine invitation and willingly endure sufferings and difficulties to do God’s work, “Emmanuel, God with us, named, claimed, word untamed by speaking, unashamed to be born” will be among us here and now. Amen.