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January 1, 2017Culture

As The Year Turns

Professor shares poetry from Milton and Donne.
As The Year Turns
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Well, so that is that. Now we must dismantle the tree,
Putting the decorations back into their cardboard boxes—
Some have got broken—and carrying them up to the attic.
The holly and the mistletoe must be taken down and burnt,
And the children got ready for school. There are enough
Left-overs to do, warmed-up, for the rest of the week…

Those words come toward the end of W.H. Auden’s For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio. I try to read it every Christmas season.

Remembering the stable where for once in our lives
Everything became a You and nothing was an It.

Certainly, the story of Christmas is at the center of our Christian witness. That is what we witness to. The crux of the cosmos came into our world so humbly, so vulnerably, so near to us. Emmanuel. In John Milton’s poem, On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity, Milton underscores that point:

That glorious form, that light insufferable,
And that far-beaming blaze of majesty…
He set aside; and here with us to be,
Forsook the courts of everlasting day
And chose with us a darksome house of mortal clay

Milton paints vivid pictures of the idols Jesus challenges when He comes. How apropos to the idols of our era.

But time moves on, as Auden says. The Christmas season ends. We take down the tree, roll up the strings of lights, and pack away the star. Another year arrives. 2017. What will it bring? Whatever the specifics, there will be challenges to tackle. As the year turns, we can be reminded of words from Robert Frost’s poem, A Leaf Treader:

I have safely trodden underfoot the leaves of another year
which concludes—
Now up, my knee, to keep on top of another year of snow.

Keeping on top of it all. That is our challenge this month. Yet, before we know it, Easter will roll in and we will celebrate the culmination of the Christmas story. Then I’ll open John Donne’s poems and read Good Friday 1613: Riding Westward:

Who sees God’s face, that is self life, must die;
What a death were it then to see God die?
It made his own lieutenant, Nature, shrink.
It made his footstool crack, and the sun wink.
Could I behold those hands which span the poles
And tune all spheres at once, pierced with those holes?
Could I behold that endless height which is
Zenith to us, and our Antipodes,
Humbled below us? Or that blood which is
The seat of all our souls, if not of his,
Make dirt of dust, or that flesh which was worn
By God, for his apparel, ragged and torn?...
O Savior, as You hang upon the tree…
Burn off my rusts and my deformity,
Restore Your image, so much by your grace
That You may know me, and I’ll turn my face.

What a story. Birth, suffering, glory. What a message to share, even now in the ordinary days of January.

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