Thursday, December 06, 2007

Death & Christmas

This is a poem I wrote in Haiti after watching a newborn baby (the one in the picture) die. I hope it doesn't lessen your joy of Christmas, but perhaps deepen joy with a perspective we all need: the understanding that our hope was bought with a price.

The Incarnation

Why did I ever come forth from the womb to look on trouble and sorrow, so that my days have been spent in shame? -Jeremiah 20:18

Unto us a child is born
Unto us a son is given.
Born of blood,
Born to bleed.
Born into the cold
Born into squalor
Among the filth of animal feces
On the coldest night of the year
Night air carries distant moaning,
The bitter moaning of death vigils.
Many die on such a night.

...and the bloody infant
Miserable yellow jaundice.
Wrap the infant tight,
Lay him shivering in the hay
To be bitten by lice and fleas
And bored through by parasites.
He whines and writhes,
Vomits, then shakes in quiet agony
But the child will not die tonight...

He will live to know more agony
The suffering life of a dirty peasant,
Building with broken hands.
Born of suffering,
Born to suffer.
And pitiful, muffled cries draw
Men of the fields,
ugly and reeking,
Bringing infection to the infant.
Unto us a sickly child is born,
Unto him the plague is given
And the infection of us all
Will be upon his shoulders.
But the wretched one will not die tonight...

He will live to know more agony
To die tormented and alone,
Rather than here in his mother’s arms.
Brought to life this night
Brought to life to die.
In the wretchedness
Of this yellow, shivering body:
Here is the only hope
Of peace and salvation.

Unto us a sickly infant is born.
Through suffering hope is born.
And the weight of the world
Will be upon his shoulders.
And Death will be upon his shoulders
Tremble before your newborn Savior.

…and the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.



JD said...

I promise this is the last poem that you will be exposed to on The Gridbook Blog. Many of my old gridbooks from college are full of melodramatic poetry. Fortunately I have grown out of that phase.

bobw said...

I like it very much. I like how it strips away the gloss we seem to have about the circumstances Jesus was born into. thanks very much for sharing.

Hannah said...

Don't swear off poetry please. This one is an excellent advent meditation.

Joanna said...

Wow--this is very poignant. Hard to read (and see) with newborns in the house...

Anna Marie said...

Jonathan: I don't so much mind the poem because it is melancholy, although I do hate to think of your feeling this way and am pleased to think that you are so much happier now.

But the poem itself is unsettling in the way it mixes images. The fact that Jesus, God of the Universe, was born into filth and poverty is important for us to mediate on as we think of His great sacrifice at the point of His incarnation as well as the anticipation of His death.

The idea that a "sickly child" is born to us in Christ and the image of Him jaundiced or vomiting, however, is almost blasphemous to me. Maybe I am wrong, but I think that, as the God-man, He would not be vulnerable to the sicknesses that beset the rest of us. Obviously, it is not as if Jesus could not die -- though I have heard it suggested that He would've hung on the cross forever without dying if He had not actively laid down His life. Clearly when Herod or the Jewish crowds tried to kill Him, He was invulnerable. So I suspect that He was invulnerable to other attacks of Satan in the form of disease, but I may be misinformed, as we all are, no doubt, in many of our speculations about the things of God.

Perhaps you are talking, not about Jesus, but about the baby in Haiti; but the images are too blurred. My comment would only be that your readers need to be able to tell who is who. Comparisons are valid, but so are contrasts. The baby in Haiti may have been helpless and hopeless; Jesus surely never was!

As always, Anna Marie

JD said...

"The idea that a 'sickly child' is born to us in Christ and the image of Him jaundiced or vomiting, however, is almost blasphemous to me."

Are you suggesting Jesus never got ill? That seems as absurd as saying he never felt pain, and very near the heresy that claims Jesus wasn't really man at all but God hiding in a man-costume. The very center of the incarnation is the idea that almighty and infinite God becomes weak and vulnerable man.

I am quite certain he would bleed if he were cut just like anyone else, and it doesn't seem too much of a stretch that being born to a impoverished young mother after a long journey he may have been quite malnourished and sickly.

He was invulnerable to anything happening to him that wasn't within the will of God, but is this not the case with every human? Most certainly is first pain and suffering wasn't on the cross, and growing up in a world before vaccinations I imagine he was often sick. He is called a "man of sorrows" in scripture.

While the poem was inspired by the dying baby in Haiti, it is all about Jesus. I cannot see how imagining Jesus' birth this way could be at all contrary to the account in the gospels.