Tuesday, 10 January 2017

The Baptism of Christ Who Crushed the Serpent in the Jordan

The following is a poem which serves as a narrative-allegory of Jesus' baptism in the Jordan River. It draws particularly from two antiphons from the Office of the Day:

The springs of water were made holy when Christ appeared on earth. Draw water from the wells of the Saviour: Christ our God has made the whole creation holy.

The Saviour crushed the head of the serpent in the river Jordan; he released all men from its power.

Along with the Morning Benedictus antiphon:

Christ is baptized and the whole world is made holy; he wipes out the debt of our sins; we will all be purified by water and the Holy Spirit.

'The Baptism of Christ,' Ottavio Vannini, 1585-1643.

As scattered people there did dwell
Like thirsty creatures ‘round a well
To hear and heed the locust man—
That crying voice of God’s right hand—
The one of whom he prophesied
Came walking to Jordan’s river side.

Meanwhile John had finished preaching,
In the river, sinners rinsing,
Then looking up his cousin saw
Untying sandals by the shore,
The one who baptised him in womb—
Whom he knew as holy lamb and groom.

Placing sandals upon the dirt
As undergarments he did girt,
Waded in the Creator blest
O’er rush and reeds—looking majest’—
Gently so without them crushing
Which others broke in careless rushing.

Then at last John did apprehend
What Jesus sought and did intend.
So as Christ neared at height of waist
He said to him in timid haste:
“To me thou comes to baptise thee
And yet thou shouldst come to baptise me!”

“Indeed, but let it be for now
As by humble act I make vow
Between the waters low and high
To bridge divide and draw more nigh
Their union one which I’ll repair
Which Adam broke through pride and snare.”

And as these words the Saviour spake
Within those waters swam a snake—
More ancient than the first born man,
Condemned to crawl and eat the land,
But which since Elijah’s parting
Was confined to in the Jordan swim.

Without understanding his speech
John obeyed and on shoulders each
He placed his hands on God in flesh
And plunged him down in water fresh,
Whereat like whale Jonah released,
So Christ His Godhead’s power unleashed.

And although to the naked eye
All seemed normal, except the sky—
Which shone with an unusual glow—
At that moment did waters throw,
Throughout the world, off ancient curse,
And in turn baptised was all the earth.

Then as John loosened his mild hold
Jesus rose up and lo behold!
In sky above a mighty sign—
Heaven opened before John’s eyne—
The Spirit fell as dove on head,
Hov'ring 'bove Christ, as voice it said:

“Behold my dear beloved Son,
In whom I’m pleased, my favourite one.”
Trembling thus in awe and wonder
John looked up, as all in ponder
Looked back and forth at John agape,
The cloud above, and Christ standing straight.

For none save John beheld the sight,
Yet some felt grace, and all saw bright—
The brightly sky that gave away
The hand of God at work that day.
A while did pass in silent pause
Before Christ moved toward desert’s jaws.

All the while beneath now blessed stream,
Writhed the serpent, hidden unseen,
Swimming in rage towards Christ’s feet
Intent on having flesh fangs meet,
But as its fangs were poised to kill,
Christ wading out, crushed snake’s head with heel.

Monday, 26 December 2016

The Stable in One's Room

'Adoration of the Shepherds,'  Gerard van Honthorst, 1590-1656.

“But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Mt 6:6). Will reward you with what? Or rather, with whom, we might ask?

With a sacred moment. An intimate encounter. A healing exchange. A tender embrace. A gift which surpasses all gifts – the Christmas gift himself: the infant Jesus.

For as Jesus was laid to rest in a manger, a feeding trough, within a stable filled with animals; so too Jesus is laid to rest in the heart of every soul who desires Him, even in the face of our own smelly animals – a symbol among many, of our sins and imperfections.

It doesn’t take a sinless heart in order to house the Lord - as much as He loved the sinless heart of His Mother - but only a heart with an opening, a little space, a little manger, with a little straw. There was no room for Him in the inn - because it was filled up. Just as many hearts have room for everyone and everything, other than this infant and His Mother and Joseph. But to make room for this blessed infant, all it takes is a heart with a desire to adore Him. A heart that is humble enough to accept one’s need for Him. A heart that is sorry for the state of one’s soul, but who nonetheless, trusts in His goodness, and offers Him a place to stay. A place for Mary and Joseph too, through a true devotion to them. This is the ultimate means of housing the Infant Christ, for who better than they can tend to this infant?

Where is the stable of Bethlehem today, but in our churches, where our Lord rests in the tabernacles under the guise of bread? Where is the stable of Bethlehem today, but in our very midst, in our own houses, hospitals, and on the streets, where our Lord cries out for our care in our very neighbours?

And where else is the stable of Bethlehem today, but in our very own rooms – literally, on one level, but even more so, within our very souls. That is where the stable is found. Where the infant Jesus, the Word of God made flesh dwells as an infant in need of our love. Our Adoration.

We read in the Gospels that after the angel appeared to the shepherds and revealed to them the glory and place of Jesus’ birth, they said: “Let us go over to Bethlehem to see this thing that has happened…” The Gospel then records that “they went with haste” – they were keen, and eager to see and encounter this child, to behold their Saviour, and to adore Him, pulled as they were by an irresistible force that captivated their hearts and informed them on the deepest possible level: ‘This is no ordinary child, this is God among us who has become an infant; and He wants us to be there. He wants our presence. He wants our company tonight.’

Who on this night (on any night!) can resist to withdraw into one’s room, to shut the door behind one, and there in that secret place, tearing the veil of time and space through a faith that does not see with the eyes, but with the heart that sees with loving belief, pray to the Father of that infant so tender and so mild, with words as simple as the shepherds would have said to Joseph as the Father’s representative: “Show me your son. I have come to adore Him.”

“Ask, and it will be given you” (Lk 11:9). It is without a doubt then. That when you pray tonight, and go into your room a moment from now, and close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. “Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” with a sacred moment. An intimate encounter. A healing exchange. A tender embrace. A gift which surpasses all gifts – the Christmas gift himself: the infant Jesus. Who although being the All-Powerful God, has become a helpless babe who yearns to be wrapped in the swaddling cloths of our affections.