Sabbath Evenings – “The Christmas Candle” by John Piper
The sun had just begun to set
And Joseph’s face, filled with regret
Appeared again. “We’ll find a place,”
Said Mary, full of hope and grace.
“I know we will,” she touched his chin
And bravely smiled, “Who needs an inn?
The sky is clear, the blankets thick
And warm; there’s still good light to pick
A place among the rocks we passed.
God’s first and best is often last.”
More times than he preferred to think
Poor Joseph’s faith would start to sink
And darkness gather like a foe
‘Til Mary’s hopeful heart would glow.
It wasn’t that he feared the night,
Nor prowling beasts nor thieves to fight.
In fact, it wasn’t fear at all
That made the tears begin to fall.
“It’s all right, Joseph, I don’t mind.
I’m sure it won’t be hard to find.”
“My God, you’re pregnant, woman, look!
What kind of husband ever took
His wife to sleep among the rocks?
I’m not a shepherd with some flocks;
I am a man and you’re my wife
With child.” She hugged him to the Life
Within her womb and said no more.
Wise woman, she had learned before:
Sometimes you leave a man alone
To bear his load of love, and groan.
She’d kept it to herself all day
And every time they came she’d pray
“Not yet, O God, not on the road;
Your handmaid bears as big a load
As she can take. O Lord, please wait;
Please let the child, your child, come late.”
She never burdened Joseph down,
Not even when they got to town,
Not even at the setting sun,
But only when the search was done.
He helped her down among the cocks
And hens. She smiled, “It sure beats rocks,
Especially for a night-time birth.”
“I’m in no mood for silly mirth.”
“Nor I.” “How long have you known this?”
“No anger now, my love, let’s kiss
The hour and kiss the ways of God.
Remember that his staff and rod
Are comfort, father David said.”
She winced and quickly shaped her bed.
“I helped to make your day’s load light;
Please, Joseph, carry me tonight.”
“I’ll get a midwife from the place…”
“Don’t leave me here without your face.
My mother showed me what to do
And what I need right now is you.”
Between the pains she tried to lie
In peace and stare into the sky,
And think of how she’d been prepared.
And then she said, “Joseph, I’m scared.”
And he with steady eye and calm
Recalled for her the angel’s psalm.
“He is the shoot of Jesse’s rod;
He shall be called the Son of God;
His Kingdom shall not ever end.
Will not God then his birth attend?”
But Mary’s face remained so grim:
“The promises are sure for him.
You know I never doubt God’s word,
But, Joseph, I have never heard
A promise for myself but this:
‘Some sword my own soul will not miss.'”
Again his eyes were steady, bright
Reflecting heaven’s grace and light.
“Our book is full of promises;
Remember that one where it says,
No good thing does the Lord withhold
From those whose cares on him are rolled.
And: when your worries multiply
God’s consolation hovers nigh.
And: steadfast love surrounds the girl
For whom Jehovah is her pearl.
And: God’s a stronghold for the weak,
How happy those who his help seek.”
Each time the birthing pangs withdrew
He gave her joyful words and true.
He carried Mary with the Word
And she delivered what she heard:
God’s Yes to every ancient oath.
And now with lifted hands they both
Were filled with distant prophecy:
“To God alone all praises be,
And let the world a candle light
To celebrate this awesome night.”