Excerpt from “Descending Theology: Christ Human” by Mary Karr:
Such a short voyage for a god,
And you arrived in animal form so as not
To scorch us with your glory.
Your mask was an infant’s head on a limp stalk,
Sticky eyes smeared blind,
Limbs rendered useless in swaddle.
You came among beasts
As one, came into our care or its lack, came crying,
As we all do, because the human frame
Is a crucifix, each skeleton borne a lifetime.
Any wanting soul lain
Prostrate on a floor to receive a pouring of sunlight
Might—if still enough, feel your cross buried in the flesh.
One has only to surrender,
You preached, open both arms to the inner,
The ever-present hold,
Out-reaching every want. It’s in the form
Embedded, love adamant as bone.
Amidst the peppy Christmas carols and scents of pine and peppermint, it’s easy to ignore the fact that the very first Christmas sounded and smelled very different from our festivities. I’m sure that the stable smelled pungently of manure and other body odors and was filled with the grunts and rustles of weathered animals. Jesus’ entrance into our midst was messy and raw and corporeal. He lacked the human trappings of royalty but was holiness descended. Mary Karr’s poem reminds me of both the earthiness of Christ’s birth and the phenomenon of his presence among us.
May we see Immanuel, God with us, the babe whose love is as “adamant as bone.”
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. – Isaiah 40:1
Heidelberg Catechism Q. and A. 1
- What is your only comfort in life and death?
- That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ . . .
By now, with sixty years and more in my rearview mirror, I have watched and waited at the bedside of my father and then, ten years later, my mother as each by death passed from this life. They had both lived well and long and were faithful followers of Christ. Yet death for each was a battle, and those of us children present at their sides sought to comfort the dear one who was dying. The sustained grip of hand on hand, the caress of the forehead, the moistening of dried lips and mouth with cool water, the soft yet firmly spoken words of love—we were intent to comfort: you are dear to us, all will be well, we will be together yet again . . . . Then, as one by one they passed beyond our labor to comfort and we were left bereft and alone to witness the flash-freeze pallor of death, we sought comfort for ourselves.
Thus when God speaks comfort to his people through his prophet Isaiah, we are more than ready to identify ourselves with that people. We have witnessed death’s hard labor, our hearts have been torn by separation from those we have loved, we carry within the purses of our own souls the wages of sin even as we await the final, fatal payday, so God knows we crave comfort.
God commands his prophet Isaiah in this verse to bring comfort. These words are presented to us not as mere wish or fond hope. They are the certain words of command, albeit as Handel draws it out in the opening recitative of The Messiah, a command steeped in lyric beauty. Ah, but is there any basis in reality for such words with their plaintive beauty? Or is such comfort simply empty promise of a long-gone prophet? Right here is where the Incarnation is in full play. It is in Christ, the Ancient of Days become babe who grows to manhood to embrace the cross, that God himself has delivered comfort to us and made us his very own. On account of his mercy our wish is his command. We by faith are made his dear family, his children, his brothers and sisters—and he alone is our comfort, in life and in death.