Christmas Poetry

 
(Churches are welcome to use these poems with attribution.)
 

The Wise Man’s Confession

 
What wisdom I have
Awakens me to my blindness.
I cannot see light itself:
What I know of light
Is only an alluring shadow
Of what it is and does.
From billions of years away in space-time,
Through darkness intervening,
At its inconceivable speed
The light of an exploding star passes
Through the dark seas of my eyes,
Illuminating the dark curves of their retinas.
But I cannot see the glow of their cells:
I can only perceive the messages they send
To my brain, and from there to my soul.
Thus Hope passes,
Unseen and undetected,
Through this dark world.
What retina receives and translates it
Into Joy and Wonder?
An eye comes into the world:
A retina I cannot perceive
That will see for me,
Beyond my dark despair.
A star in the East!
This eye tells me
To follow it
All the way to the Source
Of the truer Wisdom
That is Love.
 

God in the Belly

 
Full of God, full to birthing,
Mary howls: head back, hair tossed,
Hands skyward with joy
That wrongs are about to be righted,
Salvation’s about to be sighted.
No more groveling for crumbs of charity:
She pronounces justice with crystal clarity.
She’s done waiting for the concentrated wealth of the 1%
To trickle down magically to the other 99.
The Santa System is stuck in the chimney;
And she won’t be burned by it again!
A new kind of Christmas is coming –
To undo the dogma of domination,
Snap out of blame-the-victim hypnosis,
Chase money-changers out of the temple,
Redistribute the common wealth,
Restore power to the people,
And send the Religious Right empty away.
With one magnificent rhetorical swing,
Mary bats the political center into left field.
Pundits fumble, talk-show hosts mutter,
Super-PAC donors quiver, campaign strategists stutter:
Mary out-Magnificats them all.
So let’s get in her line and carry her sign
And holler and act as if we, too,
Have God in our bellies!

The Wall

 
O little town of Bethlehem
A wall thee now divides
Above thy concertina wire
The silent stars go by
Beyond the wall the soldiers
Aim rifles toward the sky
Militias roaming streets inside
Ignore the baby’s cry

The settlements and suicides
Injustice, greed and hate,
O little town, you seem to drown
In tears for your hapless fate
But hear the choir of angels
Their great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord Emmanuel!

Dead dogma burdens Bethlehem
With   grudges from the past
Muslims, Jews, and Christians, too
Say their claims are the last
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting light
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight.

The baby’s voice is calling us
To Bethlehem again,
Where walls divide may grace abide
Forgiveness enter in
The morning stars together
Proclaim the holy birth
And praises ring, for Love we sing
And peace to all on earth!
 

A Humbled God

 
God had it all,
He was on top of the world.
His acronym was listed on NASDAQ,
His identity was managed by a top PR firm,
His handlers kept him at more than arms-length
From everyone else.
 
But within God was a stirring,
An urge that he could not deny.
There was something he needed
That his money could not buy.
Against the advice
Of his masters of divinity
And his tax accountants
And his media consultants
And his personal trainers,
He concluded that his existential loneliness
Was more than he could bear.
The only thing missing from his omnipotence
Was the love of finitude herself.
 
His lawyers tried to hush her up,
His board of directors met in secret,
His spokespeople made no mention
Of his little indiscretion
With a certain Mary of Nazareth.
But she was not embarrassed.
What others called a scandal,
She called a blessing.
She went public right away.
She sang, magnificat-ly, freely,
Turning down offers of cash from the tabloids.
 
Christmas is coming, she said, and soon,
God would have a face
Whether he liked it or not.
God, she said,
Was going to be outed,
And the whole embarrassing truth
About the incomplete creation,
The scandal of evil,
The rot in religion,
And the corruption of power
Would be revealed.
And, to add to the outrage,
This news would be delivered in a manger,
Wrapped in swaddling clothes, and
Would grow up to be a man
Who looked a lot like God.
Which would make it all the more surprising,
Since this man would be being kind and forgiving,
Just and faithful, caring and forbearing.
His divinity would embarrass his Father
Into behaving more humanely
Than anyone would have dreamed possible,
And inspire humans into behaving more divinely
Than they had ever imagined.
 
Three dark-suited agents
Descended on the manger
To buy her silence with gold and frankincense and myrrh,
And a corps of angels was sent
To sing loudly and drown out her every word.
A team of burly shepherds
Was hired to bounce the paparazzi and the press
Away from the manger door.
 
But Mary sang on, above it all:
Christmas is coming,
And heaven will come down to earth,
And there will be prophet-sharing,
And truth will begin to speak to power,
And justice will begin to prevail.
Christmas is coming,
And soon God’s little mistake,
His brief fling with mortal me,
Will save God from himself,
And us from him.
Christmas is coming, she said,
And soon God’s old idea of himself
And our old ideas about God
Will fly out the manger window
With the bathwater
And the baby Jesus will remain.
Christmas is coming, she sang,
And nobody and nothing can stop it!
 
Christmas is coming, and Mary still sings,
Sweeter now, and slow.
The three men have wisened,
And their faces have softened.
The angels merely hum,
And even the shepherds have come inside,
Preparing to meet their humbled God.
 

The Virgin Monologue

 
“‘God did it’ isn’t an explanation,” said Joseph.
He got no account for the baby’s chromosomes,
No description of the mechanism that
Transmuted the divine shadow into royal blood.
“‘The devil made me do it’ would have sounded better to me,” said Joseph,
Though it never did him any good
When he said it to his old girlfriends.
It was a mystery to him,
What moved him to listen for the rhyme
And puzzle for the reason
That Mary gave him the news in the manner that she did:
A mystery that put him at peace.
There was something in the way she held his hand
That no medical journal article could correlate;
Something in the way she gazed into his eyes
That eluded the grasp of genomic research.
“I don’t ask you to believe what I am saying,” she said,
“I don’t ask you to take my word for it.
I just ask you to love, as if.
Love me as if I were yours,
Love this baby as if he were yours,
As I love you as if you were mine.”

Love ‘as if” makes every child divine
Love ‘as if’ fits all in David’s line
Live ‘as if’ this love was meant for you
Love ‘as if’ the Christmas tale is true….
 

He Is Weak but He Is God

 
Out of this house where there is no room
For the little ones that to him belong
(He is weak but he is God)
Let’s get outside to hear the song
Of his birthing cry to this world of doom
(If she give birth to me, yet shall I love her)
 

Ecstasy of Christmas

 
May we be enraptured
By overshadowing Love;
May our souls magnify the Lord
Through our widening eyes,
Through expanded lenses
and greater focal lengths,
By powers in geometric progression
In the parabolic curve that marks
the division of cells,
Of conception into gestation,
then birth,
Of Word becoming Flesh.
Oh blazing Star afar, come near!
Divine and human, arbitrarily close,
Oh ecstasy of Christmas, here!
 

The Three Wise Men’s Boogaloo

 
High steppin’ camels one by one
See the wise men boogaloo
Down to Bethlehem to have some fun
Rockin’ this way, rockin’ that
Camels strut to where it’s at
All night long by the light of a star
No idea where they are
By a ragin’ star, a flamin’ light
And the sniff of a flarin’ nose
Each camel seeks the blessed sight
While the wise men wisely doze
If you’re hip to what’s hap
You’ll find your own way
To the funky old shack
Where the angels play
Hallelujia jazz on their saxophones
To the baby lying on the moss
That fell off the rolling stones
That the camels kicked free
On their winding road
From ancient history
With a load of frankincense and gold
And myrrh and the pyramids’ plan
And Hammurabi’s code of old
And all the poetry of ancient Iran
And drums and tubas to join the band
Rocking the manger
Mocking the danger from King Herod’s hand
It’s the three wise men’s boogaloo
So join the choir with a tap of your shoe
They’re coming to the manger nearest you….
 

Last Candle

 
The last candle burns
The waiting’s almost over
Soon we’ll hear a baby crying
and we’ll know that God is no mere idea
Soon we’ll feel what Mary feels with the baby in her arms
And we’ll know we’ve met God in person
A person among us, weak and wanting, wise and growing
Soon we’ll know what is divine about being human
and human about being divine
One candle burning
One star shining in the night sky
One child lying in a manger’s straw
One God, among us, Emmanuel!
 

Stony Trail

 
On a stony trail through the Sinai wastes
A little family headed south
Father, mother, little babe
A burdened donkey, head drooped down
Leaving home, might never come back
Might not return on the northbound track
Off to college, off to war
Off to travel or explore
Or kicked out of the house in a bad divorce
Or run out of town on a rail, or worse
Or just an urge to get out of Dodge
To find some other place to lodge
Some other way to live and be
Some other kinds of sights to see
The soul stirs and cannot rest
Until it makes another next
For even should the exile end
Home will never be the same again
When it’s time to leave, my soul will know
Will I follow?  Can I let go?
 

What’s Left of Christmas

 
A baby waits in a dark, warm womb
Lulled by the sway of a donkey’s walk
Down a road in the night toward Bethlehem
A young man waits in a concrete cell
For the years of the curse of his crime to pass
What is left of Christmas now?
And what will be left of Christmas then?
A young girl waits by a lighted tree
Till her sleep can skip past the hours till dawn
When she will awake to her Christmas dreams
An old man waits for the phone to ring
And an earnest voice might offer a hint
Of a Christmas past, when his son was young
And a shiny train roared round the tree
A mother waits for the oven’s buzz
For the cry of her child, for the call of her mate
For the time to write, for a chance to think
Of the deeper things that the season means
The officer waits in her darkened car
On the side of a road on a freezing night
For the squeal of tires, for a drunken weave
For the family fight, for the noise too loud
For her shift to end in peace tonight
The student waits in the airport lounge
Brooding against her travel bags
Till the blizzard ends and the runway’s clear
Hoping to make it home in time
The trucker waits at the counter’s edge
For a cup of warmth to heat the night
For the sight of a face to dull the pain
Of family lost, of lovers left
A truck stop Christmas must suffice
A soldier waits in the Balkan night
Ears alert for the slightest sound
Eyes strained into the fearsome dark
At home there’s a chill in his young wife’s heart
He feels her pangs for him this night
A father waits in a cobwebbed barn
By flickering light of a lamp of oil
Holding the hand of his struggling wife
As their precious child is born to the world
And we now wait in a darkened church
Ready to have our hopes fulfilled
Ready to kindle that holy light
Ready to find the Christ within
Each of us who has come tonight
 

Incarnation Meditation

 
I am what comes before sand and sandstone
Chickens and eggs.
I am the unproven truth
On which all proofs depend.
 
So why this stirring, this painful urge
To emerge through the cosmic pelvis?
Why this wanting to breathe thin air,
To play in the dirt, to shave wood, to cleave to flesh?
To make friends I could lose,
To share love that could break,
To mingle in blood and spit and mud?
 
On this side I am a wingless angel floating,
Sustained by all that surrounds me,
Breathless in bliss, in timeless sabbath rest.
On this side, I am someone else’s idea.
All that without will or effort is, I am.
 
Out there are choices to be made:
Laments or laughter, caresses or crosses.
Out there are surprises —
Unspeakable horrors, ineffable ecstasies.
Out there is a Way,
Narrow or wide, slippery or safe?
 
Out there I dread, but yearn to go….
Out there is Christmas.
 

Christmas Cry

 
A baby cries…
and its cry commands our attention.
What does it need, how can we provide?
 
Dear One!
 
It’s you!
We hear your cry…
Feed the hungry, hold the hurting, shelter the shivering,
Stay close to the suffering
 
Dear One!
 
To your Christmas cry,
we answer yes.
 

Christmas Wish

by Jim Burklo and Roberta Maran
 
May you be gifts to those you see
Better than presents under a tree
May your faces smiling bright
Give off a glow like candlelight
You need no ribbon, nor a bow
Your love is all that needs to show
Let this Christmas wish come true:
May peace on earth begin with you.
 

When Jesus Stopped Believing in Santa

 
The day after the first Shabbat in Advent,
Mary and Joseph took Jesus, who was eight years old,
To the Great Mall of Bethlehem.
There, in the middle of the huge indoor shopping complex,
Was a stately Christmas tree surrounded by wrapped gifts.
“I don’t believe in Santa anymore,” Jesus announced.
Joseph, startled, asked why.
“He’s too fat to get down the chimneys,” Jesus answered,
“And there are too many chimneys for him to go down, all on the same night.”
“But you leave him cookies every Christmas Eve,” argued Mary,
“And he always eats them, leaving just a few crumbs!”
“That’s why he’s so fat,” declared Jesus. “All those cookies!”
“So you do believe in Santa after all!” said Joseph, with relief.
“No, I mean you. You eat the cookies. That’s why you are so fat,” said Jesus,
Patting his dad’s belly with affection.
“Oh, and I don’t believe that you were a virgin when you got pregnant with me, either,”
Said Jesus to Mary.
“That’s not how babies get made. I read about it online.”
Joseph sighed. “Well, the wonder of Christmas was great while it lasted:
There’s nothing so precious as the dancing eyes of a child who believes in the magical and the fantastic!”
“Don’t get too sad about it,” answered Jesus, his face aglow with joy. “I still believe that I am God!”
 
ABOUT JIM BURKLO
Website: JIMBURKLO.COM Weblog: MUSINGS Follow me on twitter: @jtburklo
See the GUIDE to my articles and books
Associate Dean of Religious Life, University of Southern California
 

Review & Commentary