What follows is the poem I read at Reveille United Methodist Church’s 5:30 Service of Lessons and Carols. I wrote it in August after hearing a radio reading of poetry by the late David Rakoff, whose style and humor influenced the form of this poem. It was designed for a service already filled with scripture, liturgy, and music, where a traditional sermon would not have worked. I hope you enjoy it. Merry Christmas.
It is quite hard to fathom all one can say,
when Sunday and Christmas Eve fall on the same day
to those who have gathered in prayer and song,
all hoping the service does not go too long.
Though some will stay home and tend to fam’ly,
while searching for batteries, double-A, C, and D.
Gift assembly can make one feel quite un-mannish,
when instructions are only written in Spanish.
My stocking is hung with great jovial cheer,
yet I pray all my gifts improve on last year.
I don’t mean to complain, though the gifts were but dross,
shave cream, a toothbrush, and plain dental floss.
We’ve shopped and we’ve shopped, spinning like dervishes;
I forgot my wife’s gift, I’ll buy one between services.
We came to the church, whilst the angels were harking;
we should have come sooner, to find better parking.
A Bible, a hymnal, a stranger’s warm smile;
yet alas, we are late, they’re no seats by the aisle.
The service is ready, the lights are now dim;
so strike up the organ and join in the hymns.
Sound horn and sound flute, percussion and lyre;
see faces of loved ones all lit by the fire.
Sing carols, read lessons (remembering all nine),
pray prayers of peace unto the divine.
The pastor now standing before us, you know it;
is preaching in rhyme, this cleric? A poet?
Yet listen now people, strangers and friends;
listen now children, all women and men:
O come all ye faithful, throughout hist’ry;
come one, and come all, for I tell a mys’try
of one born this evening on Bethlehem’s plain;
tell it once more! Yes, tell it again!
Of angels and shepherds and visitors quite odd;
the father (the carpenter), the birth of our God.
Of travel and census, “no vacancy” inns;
new life and salvation, redemption from sins.
Darkness and cold, a star’s flickering sky;
shone round about our deity nigh.
In a rough straw-bed, woven like mesh;
the God of Creation! Our God in the flesh!
Who came not to rulers, to princes or kings;
but who came to us (of all crazy things).
A mother unwed, betrothed to a man;
who by dreams and by visions could now understand
the promise, the truth that this little one;
was nothing less than God’s only Son.
This Son who we know would teach and would heal,
the Kingdom of God in our midst became real.
The people would hear! The people would see!
Jesus the Savior from in Galilee
would love and proclaim to the more and the less;
new life and salvation to all who confess.
Justice and freedom has come from above!
A kingdom of Heaven! A kingdom of love!
A voice of such peace in a world full of strife,
of grace and forgiveness and eternal life.
Not just in worlds ancient, in times long ago;
but here tonight in our witness to show,
from Galilee’s shores to Calvary’s hill,
from Syria to Vegas, to our own Charlottesville.
A promise of love, a love without end;
and peace on the earth, and goodwill to men.
So go forth from worship, go forth to show;
the hope of the world, and the heavenly glow
of people who came to the manger and knelt,
who touched the Savior, who rose and who felt
the life filled with love for the last and the least,
to labor for love, to labor for peace.
Who’ve gathered this evening to retell the story;
of infinite love and infinite glory.
Stand firm, now, stand fast, as you return to your homes,
our God is now with us, we are never alone.