(By Matt Foreman)
I have only ever written one poem in my adult life, the one below… I actually don’t even really like poetry all that much. But back in 2003 I was responsible for a Christmas Eve message and had writer’s block. While I would never normally replace a sermon with a poem, since it was Christmas Eve, and I was having so much trouble, I decided to try my hand at a poem. This one wrote itself in about an hour. (That’s never happened again.) It’s an imaginative portrayal of the experience of a shepherd near Bethlehem on the night of Jesus’ birth…
The Prodigal Shepherd
A man sat still in the cold night air
on rock cold hard, his feet were bare
and stared into the sleepless world
down at his flock within their fold
and thought upon some distant star
what trick of mind had brought thus far
him to this place of fruitless breath
of endless toil and lonely death.
Long had been his journey here
from angry home and mother’s tear
and hard and cold his heart had been
to look on her with mirthless grin.
To seek for glory was his want
For famous story was his hunt
Yet naught had come to him but this
To look at sheep in brainless bliss.
He thought with pain at what had past
his guilt, his shame, his vileness
those he had hurt, those he had robbed
the children left to violent sobs.
He bowed his head, they overtook
his body cringed and swayed and shook
and cast upon the dark cold ground
a rain of tears and empty sound.
O Lord, what mercy can this worm
have hope to gain or swipe or earn?
That man and pregnant woman past
as poor as dirt and yet no cast
of sorrow, pain upon their face
but hope and joy and eagerness.
Yet naught for me, no hope, no joy
no reason expectance to employ.
Did not the priest say, just this day
God’s promises are on the way,
His Own Anointed, David’s son
would raise up sword, the battle won,
would claim the throne and raise his race
all the world bow to their face.
Yet not for you, the priest did say,
no place for sinners on that day.
No place for shepherds, dirty, vile,
covered with muck and dirt and bile.
You have received what you deserve,
no place for you on glory’s curve.
And knew it true, as he did say,
I knew it true as clear as day.
No mercy can there be for me,
A prodigal and righteous free.
The night was still, the air was cold,
no sheep were braying in the fold
when suddenly the air seemed thin
he struggled so his breath to win
as shimmering the air began
to twist and turn and brightness ran
about the hillside to and fro
the stars were darkened with a glow.
Shouts rang out from shepherds near
as on the hillside did appear
a being clad in raiment bright
forgot in daylight was the night.
Hard it was to see his face
yet clear as crystal was the grace
that flowed like honey from his tongue
and shook and soothed and stung and sung.
To all the shepherds he did speak,
Yet thought the man with conscience weak,
he speaks to me, it seemed so clear
for me this being did appear.
And falling to his face he cried,
Lord, mercy on this mountainside.
With fear I look upon this face
Condemned I stand and without grace.
And then they heard the angel say,
Fear not, for news I bring this day,
of such a kind as never heard
through voice of man or spoken word.
And yet to you this day I cry
with glory to the God most high
joy comes upon the world this night
joy such as devil will affright.
In David’s city, that place of lore,
that prophets long did speak before,
is born this night a Shepherd great
who bearing stripe and suffering hate
will seek to gain and win his own
his wandering sheep and wayward son
him Savior, sinful men will call
Messiah, Lord, and before him fall.
And this will be a sign for you,
to know him right and see him true
as he who comes to be like you
the lowly meek and frightened few
To bring to naught the pride of man
the wise man’s thought, the strong man’s hand
In manger lowly, meek and mild,
Will you find God’s only child.
And you, the poor, the dust of earth
will proclaim Messiah’s birth
and heaven’s doors and gates will sing
as you approve his offering
and in your hearts, no longer cold,
are brought back to the Father’s fold.
And for eternal ages sing
Glory be to Christ the King!
An echo rang across the skies
As up above where eagle flies,
A multitude were seen to wing
their way across the heaven to sing.
Then light was gone, the night was cast
back into darkness at the last.
But glory was felt by all at hand
as they stared across the land.
Yet, breath came thin still to the man
with conscience weak and pallor wan
his bones grew brittle as he sought
his thoughts to order what his ears had caught
And then a dawn danced to his face
condemned no longer, saved by grace
His voice rang out, his lungs were clear,
For me this message DID appear!
Come must we to Bethlehem,
to see this Son to praise this Lamb.
On me, on me God’s favor rests
Despite my sin and sore distress.
For I will see this Savior’s face
This Babe will smile with forgiving grace.
And it will be the face of God
to save me from this guilty sod.
And near another voice rang out
and soon they all began to shout
and clap and hug and run and sing
with glory to the newborn King.
And heaven’s gates were opened wide
And like the turning of the tide,
It has begun, the angels said.
And death itself will soon be dead.
And heaven holds, not once a year
But every day, when sinners hear
a Christmas party begins to start
when Christ is born in sinful heart.
Written by Matt Foreman, Dec.24, 2003.