Albin Egger-Lienz (1868–1926), “Madonna”
Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

How can it be, a human child
The Son of God and undefiled,
Mary virgin and yet she
Christ’s own mother, can it be?

Think of who is God’s dear kin,
Sunlight, moonlight streaming in,
It is the light of which God makes
The soul of Christ for His love’s sake

A child of light and yet like us
Both God and human, Dominus
To be transfigured and to die
Then rise again, but hear Him cry

Hear Him cry, an infant true
But light from light, as we are too

(December 2 is the Second Sunday in Advent.)



Old Couple
Courtesy Pinterest

How precious is the gift of love—
Do other creatures know and take
Though loyal for survival’s sake?

How intimate in spirit may
The deer, the hare, the badger be?
Of instinct they may not go free

But though we feel the force of this
There is a singular command
Received by every woman, man

Love each other even past
Survival’s sake, or fear’s caress
The habit of a beast’s distress

It is love’s kindnesses and care
Empathy and blessing’s share—
Compassion means that God is there

At last the inexpressible
Remembered memory and more
Even weakness to adore



Born in a Stable

See, the door is open
A couple wait within
Their baby comes from heaven
Beyond the winter wind

The body heat of animals
The donkey and the calf
Keeps the climate bearable –
Hear the baby laugh

And yet it seems impossible
To see this lovely child
Our ransom will be terrible
His body so defiled

Unknowing this calamity
His parents cherish this
Gift of heaven’s charity
And give the child a kiss



Lights on the Lake, Lakemont PA, 2012
Courtesy Rannygahoots

We see people hanging their lights up for Christmas
Scenes of the crèche and the three wise men—
What about Jesus? Child in the manger,
What do the wise men on offerings spend?

Sage as they are, what did they foretell of Him?
Your parents will flee from a jealous King Herod—
You will grow up in the humblest of towns
Learn to work wood, a respectable trade

But when you have understood why you were born
And who you must be you will gather disciples,
Teach them their mission with sensitive parables
Raise up the lifeless and work other miracles

Then you will challenge the Temple elite
Declare your identity, earn your disgrace,
Be flogged by the Romans, so be condemned
To a killing most horrible, pinned to a crucifix

Say to the Baby who squirms in the manger
How lovely the lights—but warn Him of danger



Théophile Marie Francois Lybaert (1848–
1927), “A King on His Throne” (detail)
Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

He does not socialize with peasants
Their manners and their smell unpleasant
Unbefitting royal custom
Some are crude, seem barely human

But last night he dreamed a vivid
Vision of a country shed
A feeder and a stack of straw
A donkey and a cow he saw

Crowded frontwards wife and man
Beside the manger—there began
To swell a canopy of light
Soft and golden, but still bright

Then beneath this lightsome crown
In the dream he could look down
Upon an infant perfect, lovely
Royal somehow in feature, comely

Honor-worthy yet a menace
Full of power and a promise
Which the king could not define
Something human yet divine

He sat upright in chilling sweat
Baffled by an infant’s threat—
King Herod called his prophets twice
To ask their prophecy and price

A way to stop this dreamed uncanny
Promise of a testimony
Delivered by a perfect child
Of how the whole world is defiled



The Center of Town
Photo by Pavel Chichikov

I live in a small town in a semi-rural county
In what a few people call North Alabama,
Churches stand everywhere, rifles in closets
Game in the hills, bucks’ heads on the walls

Polite, pleasant manners, vigorous charities
Some dark-skinned migrants and no bigotry,
Asians and Africans, blacks from the cities
More whites whose ancestors came long ago

Greenhouses, farms, churches and families
Somehow the health-bearing culture holds on,
But also infections of morbid decay
Meth-labs and opioids, murders creep in

Some of the children stay healthy and sane
We know of some, but also of pain
In the faces of offspring whose parents are lost
In a fog of disorder, and what will it cost?



Abandoned Soviet Military Headquarters, Karlshorst
Courtesy Abandoned Berlin

I knew someone named Mac Coupland
I met him eighteen years ago in West Virginia
The year is now 2018

In World War II he was a tank driver
In the 1950s he had a different assignment
He carried a back-pack nuke

It was a miniature device
In the event of war with the Soviet Union
He was to carry it to Karlshorst, DDR

Karlshorst, a Soviet military headquarters
And there he was to set the device
I assume there was a plan to get away

The device weighed about fifty pounds
A strong man could take it easily
And carry out these orders

General Alexander Lebed
A Soviet general
Said the Soviets had equivalents

He called them suitcase nukes
His assertion was denied
He was killed in an aircraft accident

Whoever has a similar device
Could execute a provocation
That would begin the end of us

Imagine a detonation
In Washington or Moscow
During a time of tension

A Soviet submarine designer, George Svyatov
Once said to me
There are always work-arounds

This is a time of tension
Almost Christmas in the year 2018
In the name of Christ, stop now



Georges de la Tour (1593–1652), “The Newborn Christ”
Musée des beaux-arts de Rennes
Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Why is the rate of suicide
In rainy countries great?
Do they look out the window
At rain and meditate

On uselessness in icicles
Drooping from the wires?
Raindrops freeze without delay—
What mood can it inspire?

There is a precious memory
A meeting long ago,
Visitors from far away
And shepherds in the snow

A shed with barely room enough
For Mary and a Child—
Consecrated happiness
To all who are exiled