For the past several years, I have written a poem instead of a sermon for Christmas Eve, picturing what might have been the meditation of various characters or even inanimate objects associated with Jesus’ birth. In past years that has meant the Star of Bethlehem, a sheep, an angel, a shepherd, the streets of Bethlehem, and so forth. This year the speaker is Joseph.
There’s no expression for the guilt I felt
at having brought her to this crowded town
without a plan.
What kind of man
could let things reach the point at which I knelt
beside a feeding trough and bedded down
a newborn? Sure, I used what was on hand,
but straw can scratch
and he could catch
who-knows-what from the animals around,
that still press in whatever way they can –
as if he were their own. I’d made one rash
made one again –
so much unlike me – since this all began.
I felt I’d wrecked us all. I boldly dashed
over a cliff and took them with me when
(based on a dream!
no more, it seems)
I said I’d marry her and, unabashed
about the pregnancy, offered to lend
propriety to what I’d deemed
a shameful mess –
no more, no less.
And now? I couldn’t give a thing to them.
I couldn’t shelter them. I was ashamed.
She was exhausted, and I watched her rest
her tired form
to keep her warm
against a donkey’s flank. You know I blamed
myself for having thought through nothing, just
assuming angels (angels!) would all swarm
down from the sky
and they’d provide
the roof, the warmth, the food. How had I thrust
my common sense away? The child was born,
my wife was sleeping on the ground, and I
could only stare,
too much aware
of what we lacked. My heart was bruised and torn.
I will admit that I began to cry
(but quietly – I wouldn’t let her share
my worry, not
when she’d just got
through childbirth). Then, from the straw, an eye
peered out beneath a wrinkled lid, and there
and then I knew – I don’t know what –
a kind of peace
that hasn’t ceased,
and now, my friend, goes with me everywhere.