Happy December and Merry Christmas! It’s only just beginning to sink in that Christmas is around the corner. Now that my Christmas break is here, I’m trying to watch all the Christmas movies I can and listen to as much Christmas music as possible in hopes that it will begin to feel like December before Christmas has come and gone. Tonight, I spent my time baking my favorite peanut butter cookies whilst watching A Christmas Carol, specifically the 1980’s version with George C. Scott–which is the best version of all (though I do love the Muppets’ one, as well).
Since I work at a university now, I am loving the fact that I get breaks. I thought that having a break would help me slow down a little, maybe relax and enjoy the season. Instead, I’ve found myself creating a to-do list, and many of the items on it are those that needed to be completed before Christmas. For example–wrapping gifts. As a child, wrapping gifts was an exciting affair. As far as I remember, I’ve also enjoyed it during the past several years; but, tonight, as I went back to the spare room to reluctantly gather the wrapping paper and supplies, I said to myself, “When did gift giving and wrapping gifts become such a chore,” followed by “Adulthood is overrated.” Because–really–the childhood magic is gone.
And, you know what, I’m surprised to say that I’m fine with that. As much as I’ll miss the “magical” feeling of the Christmas season, at least I’ll still have the truth of Christmas. The only problem is trying to focus on the peace Christmas is supposed to bring without getting buried under the weight of non-essential Christmas traditions. Surely it can be done without having to give up the traditions altogether, right? I’ve felt a bit like Charlie Brown, yelling “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?!” And, of course, the voice of lovable Linus comes and recites Luke 2:8-14.
“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
“That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown,” Linus says, and so it is. This is a hugely well-known scene. In fact, I can’t hear this passage being read aloud without imagining Linus’ voice. But what a wonderful truth it brings! Even though Christmas traditions can be fun, they can also become a chore. What a gift that the true meaning of Christmas–Jesus’ birth and literally God in the flesh–will always be “good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.”
In honor of this truth, I have a poem to share today which illustrates Luke 2:8-14 (the above passage) through verse. I thought it was very lovely when I found it, so I hope you all enjoy it, as well!
The Fourth Shepherd
by Joyce Kilmer
On nights like this the huddled sheep
Are like white clouds upon the grass,
And merry herdsmen guard their sleep
And chat and watch the big stars pass.
It is a pleasant thing to lie
Upon the meadow on the hill
With kindly fellowship near by
Of sheep and men of gentle will.
I lean upon my broken crook
And dream of sheep and grass and men –
O shameful eyes that cannot look
On any honest thing again!
On bloody feet I clambered down
And fled the wages of my sin,
I am the leavings of the town,
And meanly serve its meanest inn.
I tramp the courtyard stones in grief,
While sleep takes man and beast to her.
And every cloud is calling “Thief!”
And every star calls “Murderer!”
The hand of God is sure and strong,
Nor shall a man forever flee
The bitter punishment of wrong.
The wrath of God is over me!
With ashen bread and wine of tears
Shall I be solaced in my pain.
I wear through black and endless years
Upon my brow the mark of Cain.
Poor vagabond, so old and mild,
Will they not keep him for a night?
And She, a woman great with child,
So frail and pitiful and white.
Good people, since the tavern door
Is shut to you, come here instead.
See, I have cleansed my stable floor
And piled fresh hay to make a bed.
Here is some milk and oaten cake.
Lie down and sleep and rest you fair,
Nor fear, O simple folk, to take
The bounty of a child of care.
On nights like this the huddled sheep —
I never saw a night so fair.
How huge the sky is, and how deep!
And how the planets flash and glare!
At dawn beside my drowsy flock
What winged music I have heard!
But now the clouds with singing rock
As if the sky were turning bird.
O blinding Light, O blinding Light!
Burn through my heart with sweetest pain.
O flaming Song, most loudly bright,
Consume away my deadly stain!
The stable glows against the sky,
And who are these that throng the way?
My three old comrades hasten by
And shining angels kneel and pray.
The door swings wide – I cannot go –
I must and yet I dare not see.
Lord, who am I that I should know –
Lord, God, be merciful to me!
O Whiteness, whiter than the fleece
Of new-washed sheep on April sod!
O Breath of Life, O Prince of Peace,
O Lamb of God, O Lamb of God!
Kilmer, Joyce. 1914. Trees and Other Poems. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc.