The Risk of Birth

This is no time for a child to be born,

With the earth betrayed by war & hate

And a nova lighting the sky to warn

That time runs out & the sun burns late.

That was no time for a child to be born,

In a land in the crushing grip of Rome;

Honour & truth were trampled by scorn—

Yet here did the Saviour make his home.

When is the time for love to be born?

The inn is full on the planet earth,

And by greed & pride the sky is torn—

Yet Love still takes the risk of birth.

—Madeleine L’Engle

After Annunciation

This is the irrational season

When love blooms bright and wild.

Had Mary been filled with reason

There’d have been no room for the child.

—Madeleine L’Engle

Mary’s Song

Blue homespun and the bend of my breast

keep warm this small hot naked star

fallen to my arms. (Rest …

you who have had so far

to come.) Now nearness satisfies

the body of God sweetly. Quiet he lies

whose vigor hurled

a universe. He sleeps

whose eyelids have not closed before.

His breath (so slight it seems

no breath at all) once ruffled the dark deeps

to sprout a world.

Charmed by doves’ voices, the whisper of straw,

he dreams,

hearing no music from his other spheres.

Breath, mouth, ears, eyes

he is curtailed

who overflowed all skies,

all years.

Older than eternity, now he

is new. Now native to earth as I am, nailed

to my poor planet, caught that I might be free,

blind in my womb to know my darkness ended,

brought to this birth

for me to be new-born,

and for him to see me mended

I must see him torn.

Luci Shaw

Made Flesh

After the bright beam of hot annunciation

fused heaven with dark earth

his searing sharply-focused light

went out for a while

eclipsed in amniotic gloom:

his cool immensity of splendor

his universal grace

small-folded in a warm dim

female space

the Word stem-sentenced

to be nine months dumb

infinity walled in a womb

until the next enormity—the Mighty,

after submission to a woman’s pains

helpless on a barn-bare floor

first-tasting bitter earth.

Now, I in him surrender

to the crush and cry of birth.

Because eternity

was closeted in time

he is my open

door to forever.

From his imprisonment my freedoms grow,

find wings.

Part of his body, I transcend this flesh.

From his sweet silence my mouth sings.

Out of his dark I glow.

My life, as his,

slips through death’s mesh,

time’s bars,

joins hands with heaven,

speaks with stars.

—Luci Shaw

The Tree

The children say the tree must reach the ceiling,

And so it does, angel on topmost branch,

Candy canes and golden globes and silver chains,

Trumpets that toot, and birds with feathered tails.

Each year we say, each year we fully mean:

“This is the loveliest tree of all.” This tree

Bedecked with love and tinsel reaches heaven.

A pagan throwback may have brought it here

Into our room, and yet these decked-out boughs

Can represent those other trees, the one

Through which we fell in pride, when Eve forgot

That freedom is man’s freedom to obey

And to adore, not to replace the light

With disobedient darkness and self-will.

On Twelfth Night when we strip the tree

And see its branches bare and winter cold

Outside the comfortable room, the tree

Is then the tree on which all darkness hanged,

Completing the betrayal that began

With that first stolen fruit. And then, O God,

This is the tree that Simon bore uphill,

This is the tree that held all love and life.

Forgive us, Lord, forgive us for that tree.

But now, still decked, adorned, in joy arrayed

For these great days of Christmas thanks and song,

This is the tree that lights our faltering way,

For when man’s first and proud rebellious act

Had reached its nadir on that hill of skulls

These shining, glimmering boughs remind us that

The knowledge that we stole was freely given

And we were sent the Spirit’s radiant strength

That we might know all things. We grasp for truth

And lose it till it comes to us by love.

The glory of Lebanon shines on this Christmas tree,

The tree of life that opens wide the gates.

The children say the tree must reach the ceiling,

And so it does: for me the tree has grown so high

It pierces through the vast and star-filled sky.

—Madeleine L’Engle

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