“And this was the moment
When a few farm workers and three
Members of an obscure Persian sect
Walked haphazard by starlight straight
Into the kingdom of heaven.”
And always, but I won’t quote it again, the greatest Christmas poem of them all, T.S. Eliot’s “Journey of the Magi”. Go and google it.
I like the Roman poet Martial’s begging letter to a rich friend:
“For New Year, Postumus, ten years ago,
You sent me four pounds of good silver-plate.
The next year, hoping for a rise in weight
(For gifts should either stay the same or grow)
I got two pounds. The third and fourth produced
Inferior presents, and the fifth year’s weighed
Only a pound – Septicius’ work, ill-made
Into the bargain. Next I was reduced
To an eight-ounce oblong salad-platter; soon
It was a miniature cup that tipped the scales
At even less. A tiny two-ounce spoon
Was the eighth year’s surprise. The ninth, at length,
And grudgingly, disgorged a pick for snails
Lighter than a needle. Now, I note, the tenth
Has come and gone with nothing in its train.
I miss the old four pounds. Let’s start again!”
Christmas is about the unique drama of a miraculous birth intended to save all mankind. It does not mark some gentle, festive, reassuring and comfortable everyday event. It involves an occurrence that shook the world and shakes it to this day. This is why I have a special liking for Ted Hughes’s Christmas poem “ Minstrel’s Song” which gives some feeling and sense of the tremendous drama, strangeness and searing impact of this birth that re-started history.
I’ve just had an astounding dream as I lay in the straw.
I dreamed a star fell on to the straw beside me
And lay blazing. Then when I looked up
I saw a bull come flying through a sky of fire
And on its shoulders a huge silver woman
Holding the moon. And afterwards there came
A donkey flying through that same burning heaven
And on its shoulders a colossal man
Holding the sun. Suddenly I awoke
And saw a bull and a donkey kneeling in the straw,
And the great moving shadows of a man and a woman –
I say they were a man and woman but
I dare not say what I think they were. I did not dare to look.
I ran out here into the freezing world
Because I dared not look. Inside that shed.
A star is coming this way along the road.
If I were not standing upright, this would be a dream.
A star the shape of a sword of fire, point-downward,
Is floating along the road. And now it rises.
It is shaking fire on to the roofs and the gardens.
And now it rises above the animal shed
Where I slept till the dream woke me. And now
The star is standing over the animal shed.
Above all, at the beginning and in the end, Christmas is about love. We are to believe, and it is no bad belief to have, that it is God’s infinite love for mankind which caused Christ’s coming. An overwhelming gift of love came upon mankind and still and forever gives us hope that evil will be withstood. Through the centuries Christmas has come to stand for many things beyond its original meaning – not least, in recent times, a wonderful opportunity to make money. But still Christmas has never lost what is at its heart – God’s gift of love and mankind’s reciprocal love for Christ and his mother. At Christmas all gifts should be gifts renewing love. May this season of rebirth bless all Guyanese families.