A regular article written by Phillip Jensen in his role as Dean of Sydney at St Andrew's Cathedral.
12th December 2008
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As we flew over the Andaman Sea, I was overwhelmed by God's creation. From forty thousand feet the calm beauty of the light playing on the sea and the islands filled me with awe and wonder. I took up my pen and wrote the poem that seemed to spring so naturally to my mind. It was a magic moment of aesthetic creativity.
I have always enjoyed poetry—Donne's sonnets in particular, but up until that moment in the aeroplane I had never been able to write any. This was a significant breakthrough in literary accomplishment.
Sometime later I shared my little poetic inspiration with a literary friend who upon reading it once, quickly and rightly delivered the official thumbs down: “doggerel”. It equated to his view of the poetry written in Christmas cards.
Christmas cards often depict a European winter rather than a Christmas message. They are steadily being de-Christianised—moving from “Happy Christmas” to “Seasons Greeting”. And when they do contain a poem it would often be a compliment to call it “doggerel”. Apart from the lack of any Christian content, the printed messages on most cards are corny and trite.
Sometimes exchanging cards feels little more than a formal obligation—especially the impersonal cards sent to people “on a list”. Worse still are the business cards—sent to maintain the client base or to advertise the company. (The first card I received this year was from a real estate agent!).
It is nice to hear from old friends, especially those who live far away. But I confess I only scan computer generated accounts of the family’s past twelve months (doings) activities. There seems something incongruous in a general personal letter. It does not feel personal somehow. It is more interesting to decipher almost illegible handwriting than endure the published works of this year's family trivia.
All this is by way of background introduction to an interesting Christmas card we received last week. It came from a wonderful elderly and saintly couple in England. Their card contained a poem written by one of their even older friends—John Eddison. For many years he was a children's worker for Scripture Union. Today he is living in a nursing home he calls “the departure lounge”. Even though he is in his nineties he continues his practice of writing an annual Christmas poem.
This year's poem hardly rivals a Donne sonnet but to somebody like me who cannot write so much as a limerick and does not enjoy Christmas card poetry, this offering was too good to leave in a private card.
God may call us home well before we reach our nineties. But if we are to live so long—and if we are to spend our years in a “departure lounge”—there are no better things to contemplate than the message of this poem. It reminds me of the Psalm:
The righteous… will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, “The LORD is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.” Psalm 92:14-15.
May we all await our departure proclaiming such a clear understanding of our Lord and with such a firm faith in his atoning work.
Sing a song of Christmas,
A stocking full of toys,
A day of great excitement
For little girls and boys.
And grown-ups to enjoy the day,
(Or so we like to think)
Carols, crackers, Christmas trees,
As well as food and drink.
What is it that we celebrate,
At this time every year?
That brightens up December days
With such good will and cheer?
Two thousand years and more ago
In distant Palestine,
A little baby boy was born,
Both human and divine.
He called himself ‘the Son of Man’
While he was here on earth,
But Mary knew it was God's Son
To whom she'd given birth.
He grew up as a normal boy
In body, soul and mind,
Except that those who knew him best
No trace of sin could find.
The time came for him to complete
His Father's great design,
To make a full atonement for
Our sins, both yours, and mine.
What greater love than this can be,
That on that faithful day,
He paid the debt he did not owe,
We owed but could not pay.