This set of poetry was inspired by the nine scriptural lessons in the traditional Lessons and Carols service and written for my church family in Western Springs Christian Reformed Church, Western Springs, Illinois. It can be used in personal devotion or combined with any of the Lessons and Carols services found in Reformed Worship, such as RW 1 (Emily Brink), RW 21 (Merle Mustert), and RW 33 (John Paarlberg).
Advent 1: Crush
In the cool of day we hide
Behind festive scarves and woolen hats,
Behind smiling faces and curated holiday greetings.
We make garments for ourselves out of alms to the poor,
Jingles in the coffee cup, gifts to family members,
But our shame is showing.
Where are we?
What have we done?
And we blame-shift and dig rifts and point fingers at societal serpents,
Anything to absolve,
Anything to cover,
Anything to solve the problem we are.
Problems don’t solve problems, and the venom runs too deep to drain.
So slay us, mighty Infant,
Crush the heads of our coiling masters.
Come, Snake-Slayer, and heal;
And like the tower bell,
Rain beauty in your ring.
—inspired by Lesson 1: Genesis 3:8–19
Advent 2: Sift
We are your stars and sand,
Light and dust,
Vapor and fire,
Washed easily away, twinkling out of view,
Built and beloved by You.
Your covenant is strong
And your eye sees beyond
Thousands of years, failings and tears of supernova size,
To see enemy-conquerors, world-blessers,
By a given Son, a blessed Babe,
That You did not withhold.
Come, Love, and see beyond the actual to the true,
Sift sand and stars through the fingers that made them,
Sacrifice the Sun and scatter your fire
To the edge of the nations and beyond.
—inspired by Lesson 2: Genesis 22:15–18
Advent 3: Flicker
From the pit you ordain praise,
And light lifts up our heads, like gates
Revealed: unveiled faces,
Bent upward to your Word.
We light candles and flicker in the black,
Wavering pinpricks during the darkest of the year.
You too once lit a candle, a smoldering wick of a Boy,
Who fell into hell
And set the world on fire.
Counsel us in this Wonder,
Baptize us in this Peace,
Educate us in your Might, and
Govern us in the weight of this Glory.
—inspired by Lesson 3: Isaiah 9:2, 6–7
Advent 4: Spill
Our place is with lambs and lions,
Paradox and peace,
Written into the world by your very Word.
This mountain of the Lord,
Where virgins give birth,
Where wise men bow to infants
and tyrants are foiled by them,
Where kings sleep in barns.
Stained and broken,
The refuse of barn floors and feed troughs
(Straw and dung)
Exalted to royalty by spilt blood and new birth,
Made holy, by the Infant lowly.
We are refuse made to rest,
As did your downy head on manger-breast.
—inspired by Lesson 4: Isaiah 11:1–3, 4, 6–9
Advent 5: Stifle
It’s a wonder Mary didn’t laugh,
Like Sarah at 90 and change,
Or didn’t doubt you, like Moses, Gideon, Zechariah . . .
The list is long and my name is on it.
Maybe Mary wondered at this,
Your Son brewing in a virgin womb,
But you didn’t strike her mute for the ask.
Maybe she needed her voice for the magnificent.
The Impossible God makes it so,
By flesh and bone and skin and teeth,
In humans so human it hurts.
Human-Lover, reign without end
With high favor we cannot conceive,
Silence us by your acts
And stifle our speech with your overshadow.
—inspired by Lesson 5: Luke 1:26–35, 38
Advent 6: Squall
The entrance is painful, then quiet.
The quiet of a normal night,
With rustling here and there,
Mice in the hay, blood on the floor,
And the muffled exhaustion of the after-birth.
It was political red tape that brought them to this place,
And a raw-boned ride on a donkey.
It was commuter traffic and out-of-town guests.
And it was warmer among the animals than it was outside.
We like to think she had help, besides the fumbling murmurs of her husband.
We like to think the rags were clean.
We don’t like to think about problems with breastfeeding,
Or the possibility of tearing and infection,
Or the first sleepless night.
Let us ponder, we who are born of women,
The miracles of
A safe pregnancy,
A healthy baby,
Enough to eat,
The warmth of animals,
A hug, or a back rub,
And the breath of a slumbering infant.
You still work in our weakness,
Molding miracles out of mess,
Wrapping gifts in skin.
We are grateful
For the tiny, squalling Gift
That shook the world to its core.
—inspired by Lesson 6: Luke 2:1, 3–7
Advent 7: Plunge
Terrify us with joy,
As you did some random shepherds once.
They never saw it coming—this sudden plunge of golden light,
Heaven’s gotcha moment.
“Boo! HA! Guess what? He’s here.
But seriously, don’t be afraid.
There is no moral checklist
Or theological expertise needed
To party hard at the break of Good News.”
There’s glee in doxology
And rhythm in righteousness.
Willing hearts will always dance.
Bring us the flash and shout
Of such joy this season
In the parties of the wintertime,
In hilarity and warmth,
In eruptions of flavor and color,
In hideous old sweaters,
In cherished, stupid traditions,
And off-tune carols sung from happy and heavy hearts united:
That we would forget our pain for a moment and would see beyond it,
And ache for heavenly revelry:
Festivity-splendor and feasting forever.
—inspired by Lesson 7: Luke 2:8–16
Advent 8: Kiss
Gather your mighty
And come, you nations.
This is He who is
Mightier than armies,
Jealous as the deep,
Our all-consuming fire,
And it’s time for His diaper change.
Offer your gifts
And wonder, all people.
This is He who is
Gentle as a morning rain,
Merciful as sleep,
Affectionate as the kiss:
See Him discover His toes.
Bow down before Him,
And worship, you kings,
Brighter than galaxies of suns,
More terrible than time,
Enduring as eternity; see!
He drools as He brings in teeth.
By your grace, O Christ,
Crown Your cradle cap with gold,
Anoint Your angel’s kiss with incense,
Prepare Your chubby body for burial,
And kiss your tiny toes.
This is baby God:
Overcome us with Your paradox,
Overjoy us in Your presence.
—inspired by Lesson 8: Matthew 2:1–12
Advent 9: Burst
I am a broken word,
And how broken must I be
To continually break after you’ve set me?
Or is it that I see the cracks of my past, the scars of ceramic skin,
Gleaming fine in your Light
And name myself naught but broken?
I am not mine to name.
I am broken til You Break;
I am unspoken til You Speak.
Nestle your Word
Into little broken words,
As into little broken skin,
Among little broken birds,
Yes, You made Your dwelling not just among,
And a sparrow will not fall but that You see it.
Speak from the very mouth of God,
That as Everlasting Light draws near
Our cracked frames would reverberate
In sonic salvation.
That by your ceramic scars our
Brokenness bursts asunder,
In petrichor praise,
And birth-blood thunder.
—inspired by Lesson 9: John 1:1–14