The Weight of What We’re Waiting For

This devotion comes to us from Phil Ellis.

Today, we’re looking ahead in the Christmas story, to the time after Jesus’ birth, when he and his parents had to flee from Herod. You can read more about it in Matthew, ch. 2—link.

In order to access this part of the story, I’d like to share a poem from Malcolm Guite, an Anglican priest, poet, and chaplain from England. Find out more about him at malcolmguite.com

Guite has written many books. The poem for today comes from Waiting on the Word: A poem a day for Advent, Christmas and Epiphanylink.

Refugee

We think of him as safe beneath the steeple,
Or cozy in a crib beside the font,
But he is with a million displaced people
On the long road of weariness and want.
For even as we sing our final carol
His family is up and on that road,
Fleeing the wrath of someone else’s quarrel,
Glancing behind and shouldering their load.
Whilst Herod rages still from his dark tower
Christ clings to Mary, fingers tightly curled,
The lambs are slaughtered by the men of power,
And death squads spread their curse across the world.
But every Herod dies, and comes alone
To stand before the Lamb upon the throne.

Click above to hear Phil Ellis read this poem
Click above to hear Malcolm Guite read his own poem

In Waiting on the Word, Guite indicates that this poem invites the reader into the reality that “the world into which God chose to be born for us was then, as now, fraught with danger and menace” (115). When the shepherds returned to their flocks, the angels to their realms, and the wisemen to their country, the Holy Family faced very real danger: Herod commanded that all boys two years and younger in Bethlehem and surrounding hills should be put to death (Matthew 2:16-18). The family fled to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. Even upon their return, they settled in Nazareth so as to remain safe from Herod’s son who was now the ruler.

Although the story is fraught with danger, we tend to domesticate Jesus and his story into a narrative that is nice and lovely. As Guite writes in the opening lines of this poem:

We think of him as safe beneath the steeple,
Or cozy in a crib beside the font,

Yet, Jesus’ early life, his ministry, and his death were all marked by challenges with authorities who did not appreciate his message of salvation from a rival King. Guite’s poem suggests it is much the same today—that Christ still confronts unjust authorities, that Christ is still a refugee.

We, in turn, have the opportunity to help him by helping those in need around us … the least of these. Guite writes, “We have a shepherd who knows what it is like to be a lamb. He has himself been one of the vulnerable flock, he has been misled by false shepherds, and made victim of the wolf. And that is why he is able to wipe the tears from our eyes, because he himself has wept them” (117).

The poem concludes with a reference to judgment—an encounter with the true authority on the throne. Mercifully, the one on the throne is also the lamb that took away the sins of the world. In other words, the righteous judge is also the one that washes the repentant in its blood. Christ died for the Herods as much for their victims.

As we wait in the Advent Season and as we wait for the ultimate judgment, there is a weight to the waiting.

I wonder how Jesus the refugee might inspire us to share the weight while we wait? Perhaps you could listen to the poem again (as read in the chilling accent of Guite himself!), and be inspired to take action?

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