All is calm,
All is bright...
...They say that year that errant mice
Had chewed the organ bellows through --
With Father Joseph in the lurch
On Christmas Eve: the mass was soon,
Keyboard kaput: ah, what to do?
So on the organist's advice,
He wrote words to a simple tune
To play that night for all the church.
The pews were full, the candles blazed;
They sang the folklike melody
(Fritz strummed the chords on his guitar)
And yet: the listening church fell muted
As though it held eternity;
With all of Heaven stunned, amazed,
Angelic counterpoint refuted
By childlike song from Earth afar.
And even now the magic lingers.
It's hard to ruin, as carols go,
Played on mall speakers (even canned) --
And hectic shoppers pause a while
In pensive thought, and sometimes grow
Quite misty-eyed -- till restless fingers
Wheel their cart, hungry, down the aisle
In search of the next deal at hand.
...For months the desperate armies both had fought
And dearly paid in human life; they sought
To push across the top and through the mud
And win their prize -- the next trench filled with blood.
As meteor-like the hurtling missiles fell
In endless stream to turn the world to Hell,
They charged in hope; they bled, they died, they feared.
And still the war dragged on…and Christmas neared.
And in the German lines one winter night
The Allied soldiers saw a flickering light.
Another came: a Christmas tree was braced
Against the maze of twisted wire they faced.
From nowhere -- so it seemed -- the singing rose.
And who can say which wary side first chose
To lift the flag of truce in trembling hand
And, risking all, climb into no-man's-land?
…But someone did. "No shooting!" came the call,
And "Frohe Weinachten!" -- As one and all
Emerged, they swapped their handshakes and their smokes
And traded tales of family, and jokes;
And as their newborn trust, still fragile, grew,
They sang as one the carol they all knew,
Brought food to trade and gifts from home to share
As snowflakes softly spiraled through the air --
And there between death's valleys played a game
Of soccer (Fußball, by its German name),
With caps for goalposts, though the wind was chilling.
(...Next day, of course, they all went back to killing.)
Son of God,
Love's pure light...
…The little hut beneath the stars lay hushed,
The streets asleep; and in the early morn
The Saviour of the world at last was born,
His cradle by white doves' wings gently brushed.
And as the night passed, in the people swarmed
To see the promised babe, his reign begun.
Great king and shepherd humbly knelt as one;
The music swelled, the dawnlight grew and warmed --
And all throughout the town smiles flashed, hearts leapt;
And high above the shining stable winging
A thousand angels burst out sweetly singing;
The sun rose, and the world was changed…
The powers that ruled Rome were not perturbed.
New wars were launched; men's lives and wine still sold,
Peace taxed and freedom measured out in gold
As Caesar's rule went on (quite undisturbed).
In Bethlehem the bright song changed to tears;
Another Roman governor ascended;
A thousand rebels' lives (or two) were ended
To keep the peace -- just like in other years.
And down in Nazareth, alone, rejected,
A little boy sat head in hands and wept
Whose teenage mother (gossips said) had slept
With some strange man.
...what had we expected?
For it is clear -- if ever there was doubt --
The truest magic moment cannot save us;
For all the snowfall's gleaming purity,
The memories of childhood Christmasses,
Angelic song; and our forgotten yearnings
That break upon us unawares and leave
Us trembling with a strange lump in our throat;
New-risen stars, the birth of Love itself --
All pass. The stars wheel slowly west, and set;
The crisp-edged snowflake's fractal clarity
Dissolves to formless water in our grasp;
The piercing icicle, too, melts and blurs,
Our dreams fade like the finely-patterned frost;
And though eternity may in a flash
Be grasped, the afterimage tends to die
Too quickly, with our half-voiced, weak resolve.
And all the world around us, too intent
On dragging us back into tepid slumber
(Our habits well-formed for its benefit);
And Time, for all its vastness, has a way
Of sliding seamless past our clinging hands
As we sit, patient, waiting for salvation,
The heroes of our worship doomed to fall --
To watch our world's long nightmare still drag on.
All will be well (some say, in blithe assurance)
And all things will be well at last -- perhaps;
But only with our doing. None will change
This ravaged, suffering world, but you and me --
And, saving it, ourselves to be redeemed.
No, not through Advent's episodic grace
But by what still awaits: the tedious slog
Through all the long mundanity of winter.
O come, grownups, Kinder;
O come one and all:
In awe come and enter
This strange starlit stall;
Done with our long waiting,
See Love's new-breathed birth;
And go, then, creating
Our long yearned-for earth.
Come child and come mystic,
Come old and come young,
Believer and skeptic;
Our song but half-sung,
All moved by the mystery
Of this grace unearned,
Warned by our dark history
And all we have learned.
For Advent is done now,
Yet still we know fear;
Our work just begun now
(And night lingers near) --
But, in dawn's faint gleaming,
Come quickly to see
The world of our dreaming
That someday might be.
So: this is the beginning. …Now my tale
Is told; the coals banked, dimmed our fire's heat;
And round the windows blows the rising gale.
Perhaps, before night ends, there will be sleet.
Yet inside there is warmth; true, walls may fail;
But in sun's rising, we may yet defeat
All terrors which our hands freed from their tether.
…For good or ill, our time of choice draws near;
And January's hail and howling weather
Still lie ahead. Undaunted, then, by fear,
And led by love -- come, let us now together
Go forth, in hope, into this newborn year.