A poem for the first Sunday of Advent

This Advent Moon

by Christina Rossetti

This Advent moon shines cold and clear,
These Advent nights are long;
Our lamps have burned year after year,
And still their flame is strong.
“Watchman, what of the night?” we cry,
Heart-sick with hope deferred:
“No speaking signs are in the sky,”
Is still the watchman’s word.

The Porter watches at the gate,
The servants watch within;
The watch is long betimes and late,
The prize is slow to win.
“Watchman, what of the night?” but still
His answer sounds the same:
“No daybreak tops the utmost hill,
Nor pale our lamps of flame.”

One to another hear them speak,
The patient virgins wise:
“Surely He is not far to seek,”–
“All night we watch and rise.”
“The days are evil looking back,
The coming days are dim;
Yet count we not His promise slack,
But watch and wait for Him.”

One with another, soul with soul,
They kindle fire from fire:
“Friends watch us who have touched the goal.”
“They urge us, come up higher.”
“With them shall rest our waysore feet,
With them is built our home,
With Christ.” “They sweet, but He most sweet,
Sweeter than honeycomb.”

There no more parting, no more pain,
The distant ones brought near,
The lost so long are found again,
Long lost but longer dear:
Eye hath not seen, ear hath not heard,
Nor heart conceived that rest,
With them our good things long deferred,
With Jesus Christ our Best.

We weep because the night is long,
We laugh, for day shall rise,
We sing a slow contented song
And knock at Paradise.
Weeping we hold Him fast Who wept
For us,–we hold Him fast;
And will not let Him go except
He bless us first or last.

Weeping we hold Him fast to-night;
We will not let Him go
Till daybreak smite our wearied sight,
And summer smite the snow:
Then figs shall bud, and dove with dove
Shall coo the livelong day;
Then He shall say, “Arise, My love,
My fair one, come away.”

Source: Christina Rossetti, The Complete Poems, ed. R. W. Crump (New York: Penguin Books, 2001), pp. 62-64.
https://www.hymnsandcarolsofchristmas.com/Poetry/this_advent_moon_shines_cold_and.htm

Reflections on a decade of sharing Advent poetry and art


A 183-word blog post published a few years ago became the most visited blog post I have written. How did this all begin? Part of the story started with a family tradition of creating handmade greeting cards. Part of the story involved a search for good seasonal, Christmas poems. Part of the story was how a father learned about Advent.

Last year I had the ambition to share a poem a day throughout the season of Advent. Newly discovered poems by Czeslaw Milosz, Christian Wiman, Edmund Spenser, and others. Unfortunately, work life became unmanageable due to circumstances beyond my control. Only six poems shared during last year’s 2018 Advent season.

This year the plan was to share twelve poems during the Advent season. But again, work life demands became excessively burdensome. The poems were not released. They remain in the draft category of the content management system. In spite of the hurly-burly of this December, one of the children drew a very nice drawing on the chalkboard. It accompanies the Advent calendar that our family has used each year for more than a decade.

Finally, I wrote a long-ish essay to mark the decade. A story about the handmade greeting cards, the search for good Christmas poems, and how a father learned about Advent. But I decided not to publish it. I doubt anyone is interested in the story. In lieu of that, here are blog links that highlight the last ten years of Advent art, audio recordings, blog posts, and poems.

2018

Let Evening Come, Jane Kenyon
A Scandal in the Suburbs, X.J. Kennedy
Hill Christmas, R. S. Thomas
Remembering that it happened once, Wendell Berry
Advent, Mary Jo Salter
Advent, Patrick Kavanagh

2017

Exploring 12 Days of Advent poetry

2016

A holiday podcast for Christmas Day

2015

It’s that time of year
First Sunday of Advent — Poems
Second Sunday of Advent — Poems
Third Sunday of Advent — Poems
Fourth Sunday of Advent — Poems

2012

Advent Poems (or the 12 days of Christmas poetry)

2011

Mighty Mercy, John Piper
Advent Calendar, Rowan Williams
Annunciation, Denise Levertov
The God We Hardly Knew, Óscar Romero
Mosaic of the Nativity (Serbia, Winter 1993), Jane Kenyon
Advent, Donald Hall
For Christmas Day, Charles Wesley

2010

Into The Darkest Hour, Madeleine L’Engle
The Winter Is Cold, Is Cold, Madeleine L’Engle

2009

Woodblock printing on a budget
Diy woodblock prints/greeting cards
“Christmas night,” a limited edition woodblock print
Woodblock prints/greeting cards
“Peace on earth,” a limited edition woodblock print

Advent by Patrick Kavanagh

Advent
by Patrick Kavanagh

We have tested and tasted too much, lover –
Through a chink too wide there comes in no wonder.
But here in the Advent-darkened room
Where the dry black bread and the sugarless tea
Of penance will charm back the luxury
Of a child’s soul, we’ll return to Doom
The knowledge we stole but could not use.

And the newness that was in every stale thing
When we looked at it as children: the spirit-shocking
Wonder in a black slanting Ulster hill
Or the prophetic astonishment in the tedious talking
Of an old fool will awake for us and bring
You and me to the yard gate to watch the whins
And the bog-holes, cart-tracks, old stables where Time begins.

O after Christmas we’ll have no need to go searching
For the difference that sets an old phrase burning –
We’ll hear it in the whispered argument of a churning
Or in the streets where the village boys are lurching.
And we’ll hear it among decent men too
Who barrow dung in gardens under trees,
Wherever life pours ordinary plenty.
Won’t we be rich, my love and I, and please
God we shall not ask for reason’s payment,
The why of heart-breaking strangeness in dreeping hedges
Nor analyse God’s breath in common statement.
We have thrown into the dust-bin the clay-minted wages
Of pleasure, knowledge and the conscious hour –
And Christ comes with a January flower.

Advent by Mary Jo Salter

Advent
by Mary Jo Salter

Wind whistling, as it does
in winter, and I think
nothing of it until

it snaps a shutter off
her bedroom window, spins
it over the roof and down

to crash on the deck in back,
like something out of Oz.
We look up, stunned—then glad

to be safe and have a story,
characters in a fable
we only half-believe.

Look, in my surprise
I somehow split a wall,
the last one in the house

we’re making of gingerbread.
We’ll have to improvise:
prop the two halves forward

like an open double door
and with a tube of icing
cement them to the floor.

Five days until Christmas,
and the house cannot be closed.
When she peers into the cold

interior we’ve exposed,
she half-expects to find
three magi in the manger,

a mother and her child.
She half-expects to read
on tablets of gingerbread

a line or two of Scripture,
as she has every morning
inside a dated shutter

on her Advent calendar.
She takes it from the mantel
and coaxes one fingertip

under the perforation,
as if her future hinges
on not tearing off the flap

under which a thumbnail picture
by Raphael or Giorgione,
Hans Memling or David

of apses, niches, archways,
cradles a smaller scene
of a mother and her child,

of the lidded jewel-box
of Mary’s downcast eyes.
Flee into Egypt, cries

the angel of the Lord
to Joseph in a dream,
for Herod will seek the young

child to destroy him. While
she works to tile the roof
with shingled peppermints,

I wash my sugared hands
and step out to the deck
to lug the shutter in,

a page torn from a book
still blank for the two of us,
a mother and her child.

Remembering that it happened once by Wendell Berry

“Remembering that it happened once”
by Wendell Berry

Remembering that it happened once,
We cannot turn away the thought,
As we go out, cold, to our barns
Toward the long night’s end, that we
Ourselves are living in the world
It happened in when it first happened,
That we ourselves, opening a stall
(A latch thrown open countless times
Before), might find them breathing there,
Foreknown: the Child bedded in straw,
The mother kneeling over Him,
The husband standing in belief
He scarcely can believe, in light
That lights them from no source we see,
An April morning’s light, the air
Around them joyful as a choir.
We stand with one hand on the door,
Looking into another world
That is this world, the pale daylight
Coming just as before, our chores
To do, the cattle all awake,
Our own frozen breath hanging
In front of us; and we are here
As we have never been before,
Sighted as not before, our place
Holy, although we knew it not.

Hill Christmas by R. S. Thomas

“Hill Christmas”
by R. S. Thomas

They came over the snow to the bread’s
purer snow, fumbled it in their huge
hands, put their lips to it
like beasts, stared into the dark chalice
where the wine shone, felt it sharp
on their tongue, shivered as at a sin
remembered, and heard love cry
momentarily in their hearts’ manger.

They rose and went back to their poor
holdings, naked in the bleak light
of December. Their horizon contracted
to the one small, stone-riddled field
with its tree, where the weather was nailing
the appalled body that had asked to be born.

A Scandal in the Suburbs by X.J. Kennedy

A Scandal in the Suburbs
by X.J. Kennedy

We had to have him put away,
For what if he’d grown vicious?
To play faith healer, give away
Stale bread and stinking fishes!
His soapbox preaching set the tongues
Of all the neighbors going.
Odd stuff: how lilies never spin
And birds don’t bother sowing.
Why, bums were coming to the door—
His pockets had no bottom—
And then-the foot-wash from that whore!
We signed. They came and got him.

Let Evening Come by Jane Kenyon

“Let Evening Come”
By Jane Kenyon

Let the light of late afternoon
shine through chinks in the barn, moving
up the bales as the sun moves down.
Let the cricket take up chafing
as a woman takes up her needles
and her yarn. Let evening come.
Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned
in long grass. Let the stars appear
and the moon disclose her silver horn.
Let the fox go back to its sandy den.
Let the wind die down. Let the shed
go black inside. Let evening come.
To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop
in the oats, to air in the lung
let evening come.
Let it come, as it will, and don’t
be afraid. God does not leave us
comfortless, so let evening come.

Ah, it is the season of Advent

It is the season of Advent. Many years ago, my sister-in-law presented my household with a beautiful, hand-sewn Advent calendar. She said that her daughter did most of the work.

Hanging the Advent calendar is an anticipated part of the season. The family gathers around the dining room table to read selected passages and sing a song. Kidlingers take turns each evening selecting an ornament behind a number and hanging it on the calendar’s tree.

Around the time the hand-sewn Advent calendar was received, I began a search for related, relevant Advent poetry to celebrate the season. This took awhile. But eventually I collected 12 poems and shared them on this blog.[1] It has become the most visited and shared post I have written. A series of Advent podcasts were produced as well,[2] [3] [4] [5] but the list of 12 Advent poems is a perennial favorite.

Slowly I gathered a few more poems for this annual tradition. This year I will share throughout the Advent season poems by Wendell Berry, Patrick Kavanagh, X.J. Kennedy, Jane Kenyon, Mary Jo Salter, and R. S. Thomas.

NOTES:
[1] Advent Poems (or the 12 days of Christmas poetry)
[2] Poems and readings for the First Sunday of Advent
[3] Poems and readings for the Second Sunday of Advent
[4] Poems and readings for the Third Sunday of Advent
[5] Poems and readings for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

Exploring 12 Days of Advent poetry

Cathedral Square Park & Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist decorated for Christmas

When I saw Christmas decorations and trees begin to populate Milwaukee’s Cathedral Square Park as early as November 1st, I thought, Is it that time of year already? Unbelievable. With this weekend’s snowfall, the Cathedral Square Park’s decorated Christmas trees looks particularly Decemberish.

Screen shot of internet search

Earlier this month I searched online for some Christmas card ideas. Imagine my surprise when the search displayed a block print I created five years ago.

It seems so long ago and so far away. So much has happened in those few short years that it is difficult to catalog. Curiously, I clicked in the Pinterest link. Then I read the original blog post. It is the most visited post on the blog.

For the last few years, I have received modest feedback on a post I published titled “Advent Poems (or the 12 days of Christmas poetry).”[1] The most intriguing comment regarded a poem by W. S. Beattie. I could not locate the poem online. And the mystery of it excited me. Are there really poems people read that are not on the internet? I thought to myself. A lovely thought.

This year, a digital trail lead me to a PDF file posted by the Brentwood United Reformed Church.[2] Here is the poem recommended by a reader with the preface that the poem’s topic regards the misuse of Advent.

Advent Longing
by W.S. Beattie
These are the greedy days.
It used to be
That Advent was a longing fast,
A time to feel our need
in faith and tingling hope
And keen-eyed looking forward.
Now we cannot wait
But day by day and week by week
We celebrate obsessively
Clutching at Christmas.
When at last it comes,
The day itself,
Our glass is empty.
We have held the feast
Already, and the news is stale
Before it ever reaches us.
We cheat ourselves.
Yet – somehow – still we hope
In these spoiled days
That there may be a child.

It is a humble poem with a good reminder.

Another reader suggested the inclusion of T. S. Eliot’s “Journey of the Magi.”[3]

CCCA’s The Advent Project

And yet another reader pointed me in the direction of Biola University’s Center for Christianity, Culture, and the Arts (CCCA) The Advent Project.[4] I truly enjoy CCCA’s Advent project as it includes art, literature, music and video.

I need to revisit my “12 Days of Christmas” poetry list. Maybe next year it will expand to a “24 Days of Advent” poetry list. For now, please enjoy reading 12 days of Christmas poems.

  1. December 14 – “Annunciation” by Denise Levertov
  2. December 15 – “Advent Calendar” by Rowan Williams
  3. December 16 – “Advent” by Donald Hall
  4. December 17 – “Mosaic of the Nativity (Serbia, Winter 1993)” by Jane Kenyon
  5. December 18 – “The God We Hardly Knew” by Óscar Romero
  6. December 19 – “The House of Christmas” by GK Chesterton
  7. December 20 – “Into The Darkest Hour” by Madeleine L’Engle
  8. December 21 – “The Winter Is Cold, Is Cold” by Madeleine L’Engle
  9. December 22 – “Nativity” by John Donne
  10. December 23 – “A Christmas Carol” by Christina Georgina Rossetti
  11. December 24 – “Mighty Mercy” by John Piper
  12. December 25 – “For Christmas Day” by Charles Wesley

NOTES:
[1] Advent Poems (or the 12 days of Christmas poetry) https://coffeehousejunkie.net/2012/12/13/2013-advent-poems-or-the-12-days-of-christmas-poetry/
[2] Brentwood United Reformed Church, The Courier, December 2014/January 2015. Accessed December 11, 2017. http://www.brentwood-urc.org.uk/The%20COURIER%20-%20Dec%20January%202015.pdf
[3] The Poetry Archive, T. S. Eliot, “Journey of the Magi,” accessed December 11, 2017. https://www.poetryarchive.org/poem/journey-magi
[4] Biola University, Center for Christianity, Culture, and the Arts (CCCA), The Advent Project, accessed December 11, 2017. http://ccca.biola.edu/advent/2017/#day-dec-7