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There's Still Some Light...

Poem for Christmas Eve

This is a love story, if you can accept it,
that God the father looked down at his world 
and the world was like a sleeping, fitful child 
and the child was spoiled. 

Its nations called each other names 
and roamed earth's playground like a gang of boys 
who choose sides, always brandishing 
their terrifying toys. 

The world thought it was fatherless and hunted 
restlessly for some new sign or token 
as if Christmas had come and gone, its presents all unwrapped, 
already broken, 

and the father God looked at his child 
and counted the cost of love's freedom: but he had a plan, 
to step from out of time and into history 
and become a man. 

With eternity to find the spot he chose
with the greatest care. One night a workman stood 
in a barn with a group of animals 
watching the birth of God 

while out on the hills some shepherds were astonished
as a skyful of angels appeared then disappeared, 
and a few astrologers saw a change in the stars 
they'd studied for years 

and almost everyone else knew nothing.  
Caesar turned and settled in his luxurious bed 
while in Bethlehem the power and the glory 
bawled for milk in a shed. 

It was quite an entrance. The only Son of God 
homeless, illegitimate, a refugee, 
owning nothing but the world that he grew up in 
had made himself quite empty, 

his birth itself a kind of dying where 
he abdicated power, omniscience, 
was needy, hated and misunderstood 
and after the last violence 

he was laid in the womb of a grave for the birth 
which Bethlehem merely anticipated 
and for which the blind, brave, barricaded 
spoiled world waited— 

no sage or rustic came with gifts, 
only some women, hopelessly brave, 
brought spices in the dark of morning 
to an empty grave. 

Two deaths, two births, the manger and the cross: 
the first brought hope, the second brought salvation.  
Out of his poverty this child has made us rich 
beyond imagination, 

and on a winter evening in a suburban home 
a father looks down at his sleeping child.  
The room is warm and brightly lit. Outside 
the night is darkly wild, 

and the child that sleeps knows well that she is loved,
and in her bones knows how to disobey, 
and she will learn that none is innocent, 
that death takes all away, 

and the father looking at her peaceful face 
feels his own helplessness and counts the cost 
of the love between them in a spoiled world 
where all must end in loss 

but for Bethlehem and Calvary. These births 
have brought an end to death, 
and the child in the manger is the Lord 
we feed on in our hearts by faith 

now and forever. Child, if you would wake 
on this Christmas Eve outside you'd find 
a star, not a streetlamp. Listen, you can hear 
the angels' message in the wind.

Written for the carol service at St John’s, West Ealing in 1988 - the first of many carol service poems.

In a public reading, in the last five verses the word 'suburban' might be replaced by (say) 'rural' or 'seaside', and 'father' by 'mother' or by 'couple', as appropriate to the reader and setting. In the original the setting was 'a London home' and the father and child are me and my daughter Emma, who was then 22 months old.

Calvary is the shortened Anglicised form of the Latin name Calvariae Locus (meaning "the place of the skull") for the place of crucifixion of Christ. This in turn derived from the Greek version ("Golgotha") of the Aramaic name with that meaning. It may be, however, that the Aramaic meant "the mount of execution".

Typical performance time: 3 minutes 15 seconds.

Godfrey Rust, godfrey@wordsout.co.uk. See here for details of permissions for use.