An Advent Meditation On the Incarnation of our Lord


Oh Sight Beyond All Seeing

Oh sight beyond all seeing
Light in the dark of the sun,
Fact behind the face of Being,
Second of Three in the One:
What motive could have moved you hither thus?
The Life that was ever begotten, never begun,
Began to be born, to mourn.  For us
The daring deed was done.
Burned by Angel-light,
The shepherds' eyes were blind
To everything except the sight
That they went forth to find.
It was a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, 
Laid in a manger: such had been the sign.
The sign they saw by then still shows
The perilous paths that wind
Between the Tree and the Tree.
This much the sign makes clear:
The Light invisible we see,
The silent Word we hear.
What motive could have moved him hither thus?
We hear pegs pounded, see the thrusted spear,
We hear, "Forgive them!"  Now for us
The day of doom draws near.


The dog cried out with the voice of a man suffering,
Low and hoarse, the throat tense and hollow;
Never before, that cry, and never since,
And then but once with the first one--afterwards, silence.
My hand on her head, accepted but not acknowledged,
The brown eyes focussed on something beyond us both--
Then licking, breaking of membranes, puppies breathing,
No luck with the nipples at first, but soon sucking,
The hand acknowledged now, the eyes tired.
Six puppies and I don't know how many hours
Were born in the time of releasing a single sigh.
For the woman it was one child only, but more hours:
Twenty-one in the room with the tubes and passing nurses,
My hand on her shoulder, accepted and acknowledged,
The hazel eyes focussed on a spot on the far wall
To foster concentration on the rhythms,
The breathing we'd practiced and practiced to ward off pain;
Looking through the spot, searching for something
That had flashed in the sad brown eyes six months before.
From the room next door there came the sounds of groaning,
The woman's voice unmistakable, low and hoarse,
The throat tense and hollow--the voice of the beagle.
My woman would let no cry escape, but panted,
And finally simply said,"I cannot do this!"
Then, past all waiting, hoping, and despairing, 
The child was there, alive, slimy, crying,
And I said, "What in the world are we going to do now?"
"Take her home and love her."
And I wonder how it was for Eve the first time,
In a tent or a cave outside the walls of Eden
With no one to tell her, "It will be like this."
For she would be the first who would remember,
The first to find the words to help another.
But now there was only Adam, shaking and helpless,
And Eve, shaking and shaken, the blood pounding
Her head with the words remembered and carried from Eden,
The Strife of the Seed and the Serpent, the Hope of the Bruising.
And then she felt it: the Serpent constricting to kill her!
She bellowed defiance, her hands clenched white in the skin
Of the beast that the furious Jahweh had killed for a covering:
This above all she would cling to, pass on to her daughters.
She whispered to Adam, "I've gotten a man from the Lord."
And the years passed, and the seed strove with the darkness,
And Eden became a memory, faint and painful,
And men strove to forget, and some succeeded,
And the waters rose and fell, and Noah came through them,
And the Tower rose and fell, and the peoples were scattered,
And then there was Sarah, old and toothless and laughing,
But her laughter died in a pain that was old as Eve.
And Ruth lay down and uncovered the feet of Boaz,
And knew not what was at stake (and yet, she knew),
And David wore the crown, sweet singer of Israel.
There were twenty-eight generations from David to Mary.
And Mary was a young girl far from home,
And the best that Joseph could do for her was a stable,
And her time came, and only the shepherds knew it.
That night the sword pierced her heart for only the first time,
And the first and the last were alike, the birth and the death:
The pain, then the life, the death, then the resurrection,
The Seed's heel bruised again, the head of the Serpent
Finally crushed.  She pondered the sword in her heart,
The wheat falling and dying, the fruit brought forth
(For the light shines from an empty tomb in Jerusalem,
And childbirth itself was made that that might be),
The pain and the joy, life, the song and the sorrow. 
The years that have passed have given us things to remember.
I remember the hand on the head, the silky ears,
The brown eyes wide with surprise, but patient, waiting;
Then later the hand on the woman's side, guided
By her's, from the depths within, the foot, kicking.
I remember the shoulders under my hands, the cold sweat.
I look at my daughter now, running and playing,
Squealing with joy, stooping to pat the beagle,
And think, when she is older I will tell her,
"We strive still, the woman's seed, with the darkness,
Though all strive to forget, and some succeed, 
But my first sight of you there with your mother
Will help me remember, make me think and remember
The cost to the woman, the cost to the Seed of the Woman."
Perhaps the words will be with her when her time comes;
Her mother will read them now, and understand.

Campfire Tale

"I will tell you a story.
It is a true story, I did not make it up.
I learned it word for word from the way the words
Followed each other like first stars in the dark
When they came to me the first time, long ago.
I am still learning it.
And though it grows in the telling, it does it the way
A seed grows into a cedar, because the cedar
Was there in the seed all along, and had to grow.      
You can find them tall and majestic in the fields,
Daring the lightning, or stooped, twisted, stunted,
Clutching at some impossible crack in a rock,
Living on soil they had to grind themselves,
But living to scatter their seed.
You are hearing the story from me, I am telling it now.
The seeds ride on the wind.  If I should stop,
Sooner or later one would take root near you;
You find them growing in unexpected places.
I will tell you a story."
"The story has no beginning, but we will start
With a cold night in the desert, the stars fierce,
A light wind stirring the sand, the hints of dawn
As yet too faint to challenge the blazing blackness.
There is no moon tonight, you must look closely.
You see that hill?  It seems to be moving.  Ha!
It is a tent collapsing.  There are camels
Kneeling to be loaded.  I hear bleating
Of sheep.  And there, that man off to the side,
He seems oblivious to the whole commotion,
Standing motionless against the sky
As if in meditation.  One of the servants
Approaches him now, but stops, patiently waiting.
That man must be the master here.  He sees
The servant, sighs, and turns back toward the others.
I've lost him, but he must be mounted now;
There go the camels, lurching, one by one,
Rising clumsily into the sky.
And now they're moving.  What a host they've got!
How could we have missed those flocks?  They're gone.
Before the sun is up the wind will sweep     
Away all signs that they were ever here."
The boy stared deep in the fire.  "You tell it as if
You were there when it happened, as if it were happening now."
"And how do you know it isn't?"  The old man's eyes
Glinted.  He shoved a stick in deeper and made
The sparks fly up.  "The story is still going on,
And you and I are in it.  The man was traveling
With everything he owned, cattle, servants, 
Their wives and children, deeper into the desert.
None of them knew where they were going or why.
His wife had asked him point-blank, and he had told her
That God had told him to go, and that was that.
Some of them even believed him!"  The light of the fire
Showed a smile that wrinkled the old man's cheeks
At the point.  "Yes, there were some of them that believed him."
The old man paused 'til the boy thought he'd fallen asleep,
But then he shook his head.  "It is not to be thought
That the man knew fully himself why the journey was ordered.
He thought it had something to do with becoming a nation.    
The begetting of seed was central in it somehow,
And some great blessing for all mankind was at stake.
He thought it had something to do with the Curse and the Promise
Of Eden, the Seed that was coming to bruise the Serpent."

"So that old story's the same as this one?"                       
There is only one story you know.  But all he knew
Was that Jahweh had told him to leave Ur of the Chaldees
And God had promised a land and a seed and a blessing."
This time it was the boy who stirred the fire.
"And did he ever find the land he was seeking?"
The old man laughed.  "Well, we are here now, aren't we?"
"And did he find the seed?"  The old man's hand 
Descended gently on the boy's young shoulder.
"The story goes no further for tonight.
We'd better get some sleep now, for tomorrow
We'll come to the place appointed for sacrifice.
Tomorrow night we may know more of the story,
And if we do we'll tell it to each other."

The fire was watchful beside them through the night,
And the silent tears of Abraham were tiny
Pools of mud in the dust by the sleeping form
Of Isaac the promised seed.  It was a cold
Night on the edge of the desert, the stars fierce,
The hints of dawn still faint, but growing stronger,
A light wind stirring the thicket where the ram
Had gotten himself entangled on the mountain.

The Moment

The seed had slept some fourteen years, but now
There was more than silent darkness: something new,
A gentle motion, growing warmth.  Somehow
The tiny cell knew what it had to do:
Glide on and be receptive to its fate,
Either a greater change, or death.  The girl
Felt nothing whatsoever when the weight
That counterpoises all the blazing swirl
Of suns we call the universe was pressed
To needle concentration down and driven
Into her belly.  She could not have guessed   
The power of the gift so softly given;
The egg would never be the same again.
It would have been annihilated by
The impact if the same force had not been
Within, sustaining.  Men who watched the sky
Were startled by a star they did not know;
The demons trembled, and did not know why;
In Mary's womb, the Seed began to grow.

The Carpenter's Son

He loved to watch his father work the wood:
To take the rough timber, plane it smooth,
Lay out the lines and cut and join, and soon
A table, bed, or chest would stand before you.         
The boy could hardly speak in sentences
As yet, but he could think, and what he thought
Was more than Milton could have found the words for.
Every movement summoned up for him
Sights he'd never seen, but still remembered:
From father's simple angles surged a swirl
Of spheres moving in concentric circles,
Frightening in complexity and speed
But pure and elegant in symmetry,
In ratios recognized but left unnamed--
The scraping of the plane was wind and water,
Incessant singing of the sea and air,
The slow grinding of suspended dust--
He ran his hand along the grain and felt
The tree's intensity in lifting water
To leaves, turning sunlight into sugar,
All to fuel its joy in raising branches
To Heaven in praise of . . . . an he felt the praise.
He was not ready even yet to name
This knowledge that the wood had brought to him.
He felt it shudder in his hands, recalling
Axe-blows to its roots as living tree,
And clenched it tight until it pained his palms
And forced the sweat in beads out on is forehead,
And thought of nothing else until his father
Told him gently, "Son, it's time for supper."
He was merry again at meat, and made them laugh;
But later when they'd tucked him into bed,
They climbed up on the roof to feel the cool
Peace of evening as the stars came out.
In muffled tones that mingled joy and worry
They talked awhile, turning over the thing
That had come to them to try and see it clearly.
The stars helped, reminding them of the night
When all had seemed so plain: the birth-joy, pure
Shared with the shepherds, unalloyed by pain,
The hope of help from Heaven for their people
Realized at last.  Then too, he'd seemed
So small and helpless, just like all the other
Newborns they had held--nieces, nephews.
It was easy to believe he was really theirs,
And that was happiness enough.  The hard
Words of Gabriel, "Over shadowed . . . Holy . . .
Yeshuah . . . Savior . . . King," were for the future
Or the past.  For now, let's just enjoy him!
It was not to be.  The eighth day, journey,
Jerusalem, the time for circumcision:
"That crazy old man in the Temple
Who came right up and took him from my arms,
Do you remember?"
"How could I forget?
As if we didn't have enough to ponder.
'A light of revelation to the Gentiles,'
He said, and what they have to do with it
I'd like to know!"
"It's in Isaiah."
But let him see to his own people first,
I say."
        "But Joseph, Joseph, you're forgetting
The worst part.  He's appointed for the fall
Of many within Israel, and a sign
To be opposed--and that about the sword!"
"I know.  And if there's any pain to be
Inflicted in all this, he'll bear the brunt.
I see it in him now, and that's the worst.
Last Friday in the shop I cut my hand--
You'd thought I'd cut his heart to see his face--
And he came up and asked if he could take it.
I thought he meant my hand.  He took the pain!
I mean, he took it, not just to discard it--
He absorbed it somehow, and he held it
For just a moment, and then it was gone."
"Yes, I know.  He does that.  But remember
When we got back and finally found that house,
Those strange men from the East.  Now, they were Gentiles,
And called him king of Jews, but worshiped him
As if he were their own."
        "And brought him presents."
"Yes.  Do you remember what the third one
Said when he had laid his coffer down?"
"'He will have need of this.'  And when we opened
It up it was completely full of myrrh."
"Embalming spice!"
    "I don't know what it means.
I don't know what he means.  I don't know anything
Except he makes me sad and glad together
'Til I can hardly tell the two apart."
"Maybe it has to be that way awhile
So that the joy can win out in the end."
"If that is so, the pain will triumph first.
You mark my words."
            "Yes, that's what I'm afraid of."

The starlight was too dim to show the pair
An answer to their questions, and almost
Too dim to show them going down to bed.
But it kept shining after they were gone
On a band of shepherds somewhere to the south
And three old wizards hidden in the east
Who were occupied with questions of their own.                              

The Knowledge

The knowledge slept inside him like a seed.
Sometimes he felt it opening, putting down
Its roots into his soul, or sending up
Tentative feelers toward the conscious mind.
His appetite for learning was voracious:
It always felt more like remembering,
As if he knew all things somewhere deep down,
But could not think them 'til he met with something
In this strange world of sight and sound and texture
To give them substance, clothe them with a form
Which tongue and lips could grasp and turn to sound.
The Word unheard and those he learned for speaking
Moved toward each other in the throbbing
Darkness just behind his consciousness;
A Light beyond the sight of mortal men,
But one he sensed, was there--and all his thoughts,
Like moths flitting on a summer evening,
Kept circling toward that light and what it meant.
The roots sank deeper and the shoots pushed upward.
Lilies bloomed in the fields and the birds flew,
Summer and winter, seedtime and harvest came,
Wheat died and was buried and brought forth fruit,
Men haggled over it in the market,
And Mary kneaded leaven into the dough. 
All these things worked like leaven in his spirit
To swell the growing knowledge of who he was.
The strangeness of it never quite wore off:
To know all things and yet to have to learn,
To have to sort things out and search for truth--
If anything, it grew as he grew older
And the seed began to sprout and put forth leaves.
"Tell me again--what did the angel say      
The day he told you that I would be coming?
Was he the same the shepherds saw?  I wonder."
Meshiach, the Anointed, throne of David,
Yeshuah, save his people from their sins,
Immanuel, God with us: all she told him
Was like the Spring rain and the summer sun.
He began to recognize his Father's voice
(Like, and yet unlike, the voice of Joseph)
In those few phrases, like a little child
Who cannot understand the words, but gets
The tone, full of authority and love.
Both tone and words sank deep into the soil
To feed and form the quickly growing plant.
He was put to school at the synagogue to learn
That words were made of sounds, and sounds had shapes
That could be put down on paper or skin and kept,
And made back into words again at will.
Now he read the Torah for himself.
The Father's voice was unmistakable:
The rain splashed on the leaves, the sun was warm,
And the roots dug in and fruit began to form.
The Woman was promised a seed, and Abel was killed,
And then the seed was Abraham's, and Isaac
Climbed the mountain and asked, "Where is the ram?"
And had to climb the altar to get his answer.
Moses' bush was lit with the fire that burned
In the boy's own bones without consuming them;                                                    
Pharaoh's stubbornness only stoked the flames
Until they did consume his firstborn son.
Israel journeyed swiftly with their sons,
But every family left with one lamb less.
The Fire came down again, and Sinai smoked.
A pillar of fire by night, a cloud by day;
Forty scapegoats scattered through the desert,
And every year the bull was brought, and every
Year they had to bring it once again.
This year it would be brought, and he would be there;
Son of the Covenant, he would make the trip
And see the City where the prophets suffered.
The flame that burned the bush and left it standing,
The fire that fueled the sun and kept it burning,
That roared from Sinai to dispel the darkness,
That flamed behind his mind and lit his way,
That burned inside the seed and forced it open,
That was the light of the world, the life of men,
Yet would destroy them if not cooled with blood,
Burned low before the altar in the Temple
And called him with a voice that was his own.
One question yet must come into its light:
Seed of the Woman, Seed of Abraham--
If such a seed were planted, what would grow?
A bush aflame with love and holiness,
A light of revelation to the Gentiles,
Of course.  But that same light had shone before,
And men loved darkness.  How could it burn brighter?
How would he justify the angel's naming:
Yeshuah, savior of his people from
Their sins, not Rome or Babylon.  And this time,
In what wild thicket would the ram be found?           
The ceremonies themselves were disappointing.
You couldn't really see, and all the people
Were rough and noisy--hardly seemed to think
Of what was going on or why.  The Temple
Was grand, but really only just a building,
Just one stone on another after all.
The Shekinah was long departed, and in its place
Were things that did not satisfy at all:
Moneychangers, sheep, birds in cages.
The fire burned in the corners of his eyes,
But he held his peace until his time was come.
Meanwhile there was one thing that held his interest:
In the portico the learned rabbis
Gathered to hold discourse with their disciples
And any others who might seek their wisdom.
The Father's voice was faint, a far-off echo,
Like words passed through too many mouths until
They come out scrambled.  Even that compelled him
And drew him like a magnet.  For awhile 
He listened quietly and did not speak. 
Then suddenly the Father's voice cut sharply,
Like a sword.  One of the sages took
A large scroll and carefully unrolled it;
One of the prophets the boy had not yet read.
"For he shall grow up like a tender plant,
A root from dry ground . . . we esteemed him not.
Surely he hath born our griefs and carried
Our sorrows.  He was wounded--bruised--chastised
For our transgressions and iniquities,
And like a lamb to slaughter he was led."
And time stood still for him, and there was only
The Word and how it echoed in his soul.
"Who is this Servant, and when will he come?"
The rabbis knew what everyone had said
For half a thousand years about the subject,
But never seemed to get down to the answer.
And then his parents came, and he was shocked
To know he'd put them through three days of worry.
"I had to be about my Father's business,"
Was all the explanation he could offer,
And it hurt to know that they could not understand.
Then on the long walk home to Nazareth
They worried that he seemed preoccupied.
He was.  The trunk was growing stout and strong,
Though still the leaves were tender, and the roots
Were beginning to feel the dryness of the ground.
He would be merry again, but for awhile
He wept like Jeremiah, and his parents
Chafed at their inability to help him.
Seed of the Woman, Seed of Abraham--
If such a seed were planted, what would grow?
He knew he was beginning at last to know.   

The Seed

And so the Seed was planted and it grew.
And though it seemed an ordinary tree,
The Gardener knew what it was to do.

That every kind of bird that ever flew
Should nest upon its limbs was the decree,
And so the Seed was planted and it grew.  
Though any reason why it should be true
Was more than men as yet had eyes to see,
The Gardener knew what it was to do.       
Although the soil was dry, and rocky too, 
The branches spread out strong and green and free:
And so the Seed was planted and it grew.
If growth so rich could be left to accrue--
But that was not the way it was to be; 
The Gardener knew what it had to do.
Chop it down, a lifeless stump?  And who
Could see hope in such heartless husbandry?
But so the Seed was planted, and it grew:
The Gardener knew what he had to do.

Here endeth the meditation.
Dr. Donald T. Williams

Updated 01/08/2004