CHRISTMAS 2004


As is the case every year, the papers are full of columns and letters to the editor bemoaning the fact that the Christmas observance has become too commercial and that the centerpiece of the celebration, the birth of Christ, is fading into insignificance. I'm a child of the 1930s Great Depression, and I seem to remember that the emphasis on Christmas back then and during at least a decade or two more was not pronounced until after Thanksgiving, with perhaps a Christmas parade on the Saturday following Thanksgiving being the kickoff of the season. Now, Christmas emphases, particularly in all advertising and in stores, seem to appear hard on the heels of Halloween, with Thanksgiving only a pleasant blip on the late-year scheme.

It's sad that Christmas is conceived of as party time, and this circumstance could be avoided if the birth of Christ were celebrated at the time at least highly likely to be accurate with regard to the approximate date of his birth, the identification of which theologians/historians seem unable or unwilling to determine with more specificity, though such may actually be impossible. Bethlehem is roughly at north latitude 40 degrees, the same as north Florida, so the shepherds to whom the angels appeared announcing Christ's birth could have been in the fields at night in Judea, but perhaps might have been more likely to be there a couple of months later, in which case the Advent of Christ could be celebrated in conjunction with the season of Lent and Resurrection - something like Advent, the 40 days of Lent, and then Crucifixion/Resurrection.

This would allow for Advent to be a time of thanksgiving and worship, rather than an orgy of spending/partying. The latter could just as easily be carried out with great good cheer as just a secular year-end holiday, which actually it is anyway. In fact, the current Christmas could be combined with the activities and celebrations of the New Year, and the better part of the last week of the year could be devoted to celebrating for no other purpose than just celebrating. A few verses are offered in honor of the season:

The Oxen's Stall

With freezing hands she plucks the strings
While passers-by just gape;
With brittle voice she hoarsely sings
And shivers in her cape.
Unseeing eyes stare straight ahead,
Unbridled tears descend,
The anguished mien of one not fed
Seems strangely to offend.

Now and again the cup resounds
As tin is plied with coin,
While laughter everywhere abounds,
In grief no one can join.
For Christmas is the looked-for date!
The Christ-child has been born!
And great, good cheer must dominate -
No time for those forlorn.

So...pluck she will in frigid hell,
And hoarsely croak she must -
Surrounded - yet, alone, as well,
Entrenched in sidewalk dust.
But could she be the lucky one?
Is she more blessed than all?
For undeluded...not a pawn,
She knows the oxen's stall.

'Twas the Night Before Christmas

'Twas the night before Christmas and all through the world
There were hate and its ways and battle-flags unfurled,
And children malnourished from dictators' scourges,
And orphans made daily by despotic purges;
There were people divided - the have and have-not -
With the haves gaining more, the have-nots gaining rot.
In the nations of scourges and purges and greed
Flowed fresh blood in the streets when the martyrs would bleed;
In the nations of haves there were gift-giving sprees,
But in lands of have-nots there was just more disease;
In the nations of purges, with people not free,
There were fear and distrust and a deep misery;
But in nations of haves there were songs of great cheer,
While in lands of have-nots, just to live grew more drear;
To just such a world two millennia now spent
Came Christ of the Scriptures with a call to repent,
Which meant then, as now, turn away from your urges,
Let malice and greed be the objects of purges;
And to mostly deaf ears rang that word in Christ's day,
And to mostly deaf ears rings that same cry today;

'Twas the night before Christmas and all through the earth
There remained the same need for the God of Christ's birth.

Not a Trace, Not a Sound

The wind was cold on that near-moonless night,
The town in the distance seemed just one huge light.
I stepped along briskly, to ward off the chill,
Toward that beacon of light on a low-lying hill.
Not often the town is so brightly lit,
Just one time a year does such lighting seem fit,
Just one time a year is its setting so bright,
Just one time - at Advent - does its glow pierce the night.
But the glow of that light to the traveler cold
In his bone-chilling journey means more than pure gold,
Meaning warmth at a fireside, and hunger pangs stilled,
Though actually hailing God's promise fulfilled.

And then he appeared, stepping briskly, as well,
He looked at me briefly - from his lips no words fell.
He came alongside in a way quite surreal,
And my own lips were sealed as we walked toward that hill.
I had started to speak, but his look intervened -
It was piercing - that look - but not that of a fiend.
He seemed to see through me, to look beyond then,
To look beyond there, to look beyond when.
For a while - a cold mile - we tramped through the night
On that snow-hardened road toward the burgeoning light.
And then he began to gaze all around,
As the town we approached, heard its holiday sound.
We tramped through the streets, beholding the lights -
His face seemed transparent, reflecting the lights.
And as we walked on, while friends spoke to me,
They seemed not to see him right there beside me.
He finally turned in the bright-colored glare,
And asked for the reason for such joy in the air.

To him I explained the celebration and joy -
The lights and the singing for one baby boy.
He listened intently, then wondered aloud
At the revelry, too, permeating the crowd.
I longed for the fireside and holiday food,
But to leave him alone - I could not be that rude.
We walked to the outskirts on the opposite side
When he turned and looked back...and then softly cried.
Embarrassed, I turned, for words at a loss,
Then heard his soft voice, "But, where is the cross?"
I waited a moment, then dared turn around,
He was gone in that moment - not a trace, not a sound.