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On Earth:
A Reading for Christmas
Richard Terrell
(with contributions from Ruth Schubarth)
(At the Ad Lib Christian Arts Retreat, 2002)

None living on earth
visioned the coming change.
The Great Empire
was ruled by power and sword.
Old gods' potencies had waned,
their Olympian flames dim to memory.
On a lonely stone
in a Roman graveyard,
a worn relief told the sum of all things:
"I was not; I was; now I am not."
In this darkness
an angel speaks to a young woman:
"Fear not."

She queries the angel,
troubled at its message
that her womb, though virgin still,
shall bear life so holy.
"How can this be,
for I have known not a man?"
The angel speaks in assurance
founded beyond Time:
"The child you will birth
will birth a Kingdom
without end.
He is Son of the Most High,
and you, even now,
are under the shadow of the Same.
This is not impossible."
The woman answers,
"I live to serve my Lord.
May this be as you have said."
And the angel departs.

The words spoken are of the Word,
the one Word of creation
seeking to redeem the errant ways of man.
This divine condescension
plots the Way of Sorrows
born in blood and flesh,
the Ineffable Light incarnate.
Eternal Love that wrought us
will yet stand still
before the world's power
to hear the mocking question,
"What is Truth?"
Then go forth to war
as Lamb led to slaughter.
Darkness will know its moment,
its brief, apparent victory.
But the little one born
so quietly,
yet to be killed by fear,
will be raised indestructible.

Through the darkness comes a cry,
the infant utterings
of our Lover.
Ox and ass
seem to consider the mystery
of what Mary and Joseph receive.
Hosts of heaven look on,
and low shepherds bring their sheep
to this new-mangered place of birth,
this Emmanuel moment
the King of all time.
In his young heart flows blood
yet to be shed,
the song of martyrs yet unknown
bearing already such mercy
amid the world's affliction,
wrought by countless hearts made new
who would seek to know his call:
Come to me, you heavy laden
and I will give you rest.
Shepherds run off and spread the good news.

The woman ponders in her heart
through the night of her labor,
night of her delivery.
In this night
she holds eternity in her arms.
Does she give thought
to what this life will hold?
Does she sense the sorrow
of the way of the road
that lay before her as well?
Does she look into the eyes
of her Son
and hear already his later words,
the despairing cry of one forsaken?
Does she see his infant toes,
so perfect and quiet there,
and the Way they will walk
to his final hill on the Sacrificial Day
and beyond, to the ends of the earth?
Does she hear in that night
the eternal resonance of his perfect heart?
Does she know of the crimes
yet to be played out in his name,
shaming the world's memory
of the One whose pulse now casts
its sinless rhythm before wondering eyes?
What vision does she hide,
and what does she already know?

The song of Truth that lived and died
and yet ever lives
is heard though all the ages
since that first obscure birth.
It rises; it falls.
Its sound, though dimmed
by failing and darkened hearts,
casts its promise
in ever regenerating voice.
From what Mary receives,
from what she gives,
a new world is born.
Bride and Groom seek the other
In the holy longings of Love.
The ancient tomb crumbles,
its time-worn message
returned to dust.
As Christ, our Lord
comes forth from death,
so shall we rise
and know as we have been known.
Oh hard working God,
whose hands form, whose breath burns,
cast us into thy forge
and make us ready
for you.

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