November 8, 2013

Winter’s End

Posted in Advent, Christmastide, Eastertide, Incarnation, Resurrection, Son of God, Spiritual Warfare, Water of Life at 6:45 am by Teresa Roberts Johnson

Cruel frost will coat the desiccated leaves,
And brutal winds will harry evergreens.
Ruthless snow will smother cropless fields
While creatures flee from winter’s bitter bite.
The lengthening nights will silence laughing birds,
As shortened days steal light and joy from men,
And gloom enshrouds the flowers on each grave.
But underneath bleak snow a seed abides
And naked trees dip fingers into earth
Made holy when Immanuel came down.
In Him is hope for life to shine anew
When resurrected by the Easter’s morning dew.
For though the sun will fade and fail to glow
The constant Son’s Light melts the winter snow.

Copyright © 2013 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)

This poem has the same theme as Dragon Death (previous post). As I become more dreadfully aware of the spiritual battles that surround us every day, I feel the need to acknowledge their reality, but not without asserting the greater reality: Our Lord has conquered sin and death, and in Him, we are more than conquerors. As the Advent and Christmas seasons approach, I have to remind myself that Christmas finds its full meaning in Easter, and Advent looks both backward and forward. I long for the day when the Son’s light will consume all of the winter-ills that plague us: sin, sickness, pain, loss, and death.

As for the technicalities of poetry, I purposely did not introduce rhyme until the final four lines, to signify that His name brings order out of chaos.

December 23, 2012

The Burden of the Lord

Posted in Advent, Christmastide, Good Friday, Holy Week, Incarnation, Lent, Liturgical Calendar, Son of Man tagged , at 6:23 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

In ages past good shepherds spoke the truth
And faced the scorn of disobedient men.
Some heard the call while they were in their youth,
Others, advanced in age, combatted sin.
A path of grief and pain the prophets trod;
Only a few saw fruit from labor long.
They bore the burden of the Word of God
And through the struggle sang His victory song.
Another bore the burden of the Lord:
The mother of the promised Son of Man.
Her heart would be pierced by Roman sword,
But freely she submitted to God’s plan.
And taking on that burden, she has borne
The Savior, who our deepest woes has borne.

Copyright © 2012 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)

St. Luke’s account of the annunciation has always gripped my heart. There is so much for us to learn by St. Mary’s responses to the angel. It is quite obvious that she knew the promises of God, recorded by the prophets of old. The angel did not offer any theological explanations of the need for a Savior, though he did answer her question about the biology of it all. In her question and the angel’s answer we see two things: God does not want us to follow Him blindly but to understand as much as we are able. We also see that when our concerns have been answered, the proper response is “be it unto me according to thy word.”

It is worthwhile to study the phrase “the burden of the Lord” or “the burden of the word of the Lord” as it is found in the Old Testament. I cannot do it justice here, but one good resource is a sermon by Spurgeon. He deals beautifully with the solemn task of being a preacher of the Word. My addition to the meanings of “burden of the Lord” is a poetic play on words related to the actual physical burden a mother experiences in bearing a child.

May we ever be as faithful as the Blessed Virgin Mary.

This resulted from the notes I took during the sermon today. I scribbled down the words “the burden of the Lord” when the priest was talking about St. Mary’s willingness to endure ostracism or worse in order to be obedient to the Lord God. As to the form, it is a sort-of sonnet. I probably violated all sorts of rules by ending the last two lines with the same word, but the ideas were so important to place together that I will accept the consequences, should the poetry police ever come knocking at the door.

December 16, 2012

Lamp to Our Feet

Posted in Advent, Christmastide, Creation, Hope, Incarnation, Liturgical Calendar, Obedience, Word tagged at 9:15 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

The Word spoke forth into the formless dearth:
“Let there be light,” and so the darkness fled.
The light was good and to good things gave birth.
And Light and Word like a great river spread.

Though chaos fought to keep its stranglehold,
The Light pierced through with beams of glory bright.
As Word spoke through His prophets sent of old,
The promise broke the curse of gathering night.

Through years of silence, still the Light remained
And kept sweet hope alive through trials grim.
The wretched people sat in darkness, chained,
Waiting the sound of morn’s melodious hymn.

In the beginning was the Living Word.
Then Word made flesh brought light and life to men,
And through His death new life has been transferred.
Now all must walk in Light who live in Him.

Copyright © 2012 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)

St. John provides an obvious link between the first chapter of his Gospel and Genesis 1. The two great “in the beginning” passages mark the narratives of creation and re-creation, the beginning of life and of life abundant. But in this poem I have taken this connection a few steps further to follow the thread in its path from Genesis to John’s Gospel and then beyond to his epistles. God’s working throughout history has been weaving a tapestry that is still taking shape as the Kingdom comes on earth as it is in heaven. But from our vantage point, we can look back and glimpse creation and the fall, with the aftermath that included the prophets and the promise, and then the promise fulfilled in the Word made flesh who lived and died for us. In the second verse, there is a conscious play on words, as we normally think of promises being broken. But in this case a promise broke the curse. Thanks be to God!

I purposely stopped the poem at the point where our responsibility lies. It is true that one day we will live with Him in perfect Light, but in this present age it is still a daily struggle to walk in the Light; given the phrasing in John’s epistle, it is not a foregone conclusion that we will do so. It is an act of the will, one that begins with a love of His Word and Law, as we read throughout Psalm 119, the source of the poem’s title. It is also an act of faith, hope, and love to behave now as citizens of a Kingdom we cannot yet see. Abiding in Christ is the key, as He told His disciples in the Upper Room.

God help us ever to do so.

This poem is a by-product of my work to prepare the resources for Christmas Day. Now, back to work!

December 9, 2012


Posted in Advent, Atonement, Incarnation, Lamb of God, Lent, Son of God, Son of Man, Suffering Servant, Word tagged , , at 8:57 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

Lift up the valleys and raze every hill,
Repave the rocky roads and make them straight.
Level the hurdles so that nothing will
Obscure the vision that we all await:
The glory of the Lord shall be
Revealed for all the world to see.

Remove the walls and knock the scaffolds down
Take out the fences and fold up the gates.
Shout from the wilderness to every town,
For God has spoken, and His wrath abates.
The Word made flesh has borne our pains
And now as King forever reigns.

Comfort the people who were once beguiled
By dark desires that war against the soul;
Be kind to them, for though they’ve been reviled,
The Lord has come their sad hearts to console.
Behold the Lamb, who takes our guilt!
In Him all things shall be rebuilt.

Copyright © 2012 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)

Isaiah 40:1-11 is a Sunday reading during Advent in more than one lectionary, and so it seemed to warrant an Advent poem. I’ve purposely rearranged the ideas, because the passage starts with the concept of comforting God’s people, and the message I wanted to convey was better served in moving from the concept of leveling everything to that of lifting us up to Himself, comforting us, and rebuilding, only better. (I suppose that betrays my fondness for ascension theology.)

It occurred to me today in reading this passage that the tearing down of mountains and filling up of valleys seems to have a particular purpose: where there are mountains and valleys, the skyline is obscured, and so whatever is revealed would be hidden from some. The timing of Jesus’ arrival, as well as the location of His birth, supported the greatest opportunity for the message to be spread to all the earth. Also, He preached to rich and poor, outcasts and leaders, politicians and zealots, those who were afar off and those who were near. No haughty heart could withstand His gaze; no humble soul could fail to be comforted.

Finally, it is important to notice that there is no room for the status quo when Jesus breaks onto the scene. Everything that would keep us from loving Him sincerely must be knocked down, destroyed, ground to dust. But when He rebuilds our lives, He makes them strongholds.

I’ve been meditating a lot on the Advent passages for Sundays, and this one in particular is filled with poetic symbols that hold great meaning and great comfort. I began scribbling this during the service this morning and completed it this evening. The first line that came to me, since amended, was “break down the walls.” As I pondered this concept of breaking things and rearranging them, I heard an echo from The Hobbit, a book I read in childhood. When Gandalf finished “chipping the glasses and breaking the plates” in Bilbo’s life, his whole future had been rearranged, but both he and his beloved Shire were better off because he bravely endured many adventures.

Faith Works

Posted in Advent, Faith, Lent, Works of Mercy at 8:21 am by Teresa Roberts Johnson

True faith has busy hands and feet
And eagle eyes that seek out
Hunger to fulfill and pain to ease.
Faith binds up broken hearts
No physic can amend and dries the tears
From faces stained with hopelessness.
Hearts buried in despair are warmed and filled
With every good gift God supplies.
And those who suffer famine of all kinds—
Of wretched body, soul, and mind—
Are satisfied by faith that lives and breathes,
By faith that prays and works and hopes,
By faith that loves the Triune God
And also loves the sheep for whom Christ died,
By faith that works.

Copyright © 2012 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)

More to come later on an explanation, but for a long time I’ve wanted a way to bring together I Corinthians 13 and James 1 and 2, and these are the thoughts that finally emerged. I am convinced that no organization can call itself a branch of the Church unless it is actively engaged in works of mercy, perhaps the most important of which is evangelism.

I’ve dropped my usual form-bound style and opted for a more natural flow of language.

November 4, 2012

Bride’s Room

Posted in Advent, Bridegroom, Holy Spirit, Lent, Sanctification, Spiritual Warfare, The Trinity tagged , , at 2:38 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

Comb out her matted hair and wipe her face.
Then wash her hands and cleanse her filthy feet.
Becalm her restless soul; fill her with grace.
Give her fine wine to drink and bread to eat.
Take every spot and wrinkle from her dress,
And beautify her feet with shoes of peace.
Strengthen her heart; increase her righteousness.
Shield her with faith, and every fear release.
Spirit of God, take this unworthy Bride,
Transform her thoughts and thus renew her mind.
Be thou her comfort; never leave her side.
Teach her all truth, or else she will be blind.
Prepare her for the coming of the Groom,
Who in His Father’s house prepares her room.

Copyright © 2012 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)

This morning we celebrated the Feast of All Saints at the parish I attend. The sermon was about heaven, and one of the passages that the priest expounded was John 14:2, where Christ assures His disciples that although He has to leave them, their separation will not be forever, and that He will not only be waiting for them but will also have a special place prepared for them. I started thinking about how wonderful it is to have a Lord who will prepare a place for His Bride in heaven and who has sent His Spirit to prepare us in the meantime.

At that point, the image of a Bride’s Room came to mind, that lovely spot in any church or wedding chapel where brides are curled and swirled and pearled, to make them beautiful for their special day. The Holy Spirit does for us in a spiritual sense exactly the kinds of things that take place in a Bride’s Room because being sanctified is the process of being made ready for our Groom. Those are the ideas that unfold in the first 10 lines of the poem using various images from Scripture, but especially two from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.

  1. Ephesians 6:14-16, where St. Paul lays out the spiritual armor that prepares us for the battles we will endure until that day when all tears are wiped from our eyes.
  2. Ephesians 5:25-28, where St. Paul delineates the connection between marriage and the relationship that Christ has with His Church.

There are also references to Romans 12:2; 2 Corinthians 3:18; John 16:13; and any verses that talk about the Eucharist, for can there be sanctification if we neglect the Body and Blood?

On the Feast of All Saints, I always think about my loved ones who are in heaven, but today in particular my father was on my mind. He went to heaven 33 years ago today, and I still miss him. But I take comfort in knowing that our Lord had a place prepared for Daddy and that I will someday see them both. And even now we are knit together in that holy fellowship which includes everyone whom Christ’s blood has redeemed. I prefer to think of 4 November 1979 as the day my father stopped dying. We are all born dying, and only when we reach Heaven’s shores are we safe forever more from the ravages of decay. No moth, no rust, and nothing that can cause corruption. In heaven, there is only life and light. By God’s grace, I can bear anything here because I know that is what awaits me there.

December 11, 2011

Sonnet of the Better Ark

Posted in Advent, Creation, Eastertide, Redeemer, Resurrection, Son of God at 7:19 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

You know how many lions roam the plains.
You shepherd from the clouds the quenching rains.
You make the meadows laugh with betony
And revel in the birds’ cacophony.
Your tender care o’er fields and cattle-kin
Blankets the earth and all that dwell therein.
The hills stand watch in loyalty to You
While trees reach up, embracing skies of blue.
Creator, God, Your whole earth sings of love.
You see each sparrow fall or soar above.
Though birds may hush and men fall silent too,
What You have made, You will create anew.
The rising of your Son who did descend,
Gives confidence this frail world’s not the end.

Copyright © 2011 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)

I have been thinking a lot lately about sparrows falling and what that means in a couple of contexts. First, if God takes note when every sparrow falls, then “this frail world’s not the end.” It would be futile for God to count the sparrows if all He’s doing is keeping some sort of cosmic score to report when the “Game Over” sign flashes on the screen. The end of life in this world does not mean the end of life, or else what would be the point of counting sparrows? But the final word of the poem has a squinting meaning. I also mean that this world is not an end and purpose in itself. We live in a place where moth and rust corrupts and thieves break through and steal (Matthew 6:19-20). If we put all our time and effort into accumulating material things, we miss the point entirely. That is not to say that the material world has no value, for we do not deny the goodness of creation and the great gift that God has provided in the material world. It is to assert that this world has no meaning apart from the purposes of its good and kind Creator.

Second, the concept of sparrows falling means something for the whole “problem of pain” as it is often called. The passage in Luke that reassures us we are much more important than sparrows says that a fallen sparrow is not forgotten before God (Luke 12:6). The parallel passage in Matthew says that sparrows do not fall apart from the will of God (Matthew 10:29). How could a good and loving God will that a sparrow fall? The real question is, How can we creatures question the goodness and love of our Redeemer God? If He loves the sparrows (and us) and yet sparrows fall and children die, then death must not be the worst thing in the world and there must be something else besides the world that we can see. And so there is. There is the irrevocable hope that the God who made the world is making it again, that a day is coming when no one shall hurt or destroy in all His holy mountain (Isaiah 65:25), that His great love will prevail over every pain and every grief, but more important, over the sin that causes them. The painful path of re-creation is outlined in the Litany:

By the mystery of thy holy Incarnation; by thy holy Nativity and Circumcision; by thy Baptism, Fasting, and Temptation,
Good Lord, deliver us.

By thine Agony and Bloody Sweat; by thy Cross and Passion; by thy precious Death and Burial; by thy glorious Resurrection and Ascension; and by the Coming of the Holy Ghost,
Good Lord, deliver us.

In all time of our tribulation; in all time of our prosperity; in the hour of death, and in the day of judgement,
Good Lord, deliver us.

Deliver us, indeed, O Christ, who pioneered the way of sacrifice, for You offered yourself before the foundation of the world. Thanks be to God!

This was written today, 11 December 2011. The passage from Isaiah 65 was the Old Testament reading in the parish I attend.  I had trouble with the title, as I generally do, but it seemed to me that if the ark was a type of salvation, then it also represents the fact that God is saving and will save His whole creation. New heaven, new earth, and a promise better than the rainbow. Perhaps another poem is brewing.

December 3, 2011

Advent Anthem

Posted in Advent, Holy Spirit, Son of God, The Trinity at 11:18 am by Teresa Roberts Johnson

In contests of the gods before the Son appeared
How could men know that only One was to be feared?
In days of devastation large, when mountains shook
And rivers ran with blood, where could men look?
Was there a sovereign Lord who reigned on high?
Did Someone watch with love, and how could He draw nigh?
When kingdoms flourish for a while, then fall
To rise no more, how can we hear the constant call
Transcending earthly kings and all dominions strong?
Oh listen, pilgrim, to the Right, which shall undo all wrong.
The changeless presence of the great I AM.
The witness of the righteous, risen Lamb.
The Holy Dove by whom the Church is knit.
Hear now the Trinity: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Copyright © 2011 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)

One of my favorite Old Testament accounts is found in I Samuel 5, where we read that the Philistines have “captured” the Ark of the Covenant. Of course, they would not have had any success if God Himself had not allowed them to do so, but they thought their lifeless, bloodless god had won the victory. What I love most about the Advent season is that it is our opportunity every year to herald the truth that God has come, that He is coming, and that He reigns supreme! Transcendent and immanent, He is God alone, and He has taken human form to set us free.

But I also love the sense of anticipation that the Advent season brings to the heart of the Christian. More than any other liturgical season, it emphasizes the constant longing that is our lot as pilgrims and strangers on this earth. We live in the “already but not yet” time. We are redeemed but have not fully been brought into all that it means to be redeemed. Yet the presence of the Trinity provides the meaning and purpose, the beginning and end, the Alpha and Omega not just to our personal lives but to all of human existence. For although He has broken into human history, He lives above it; otherwise, He could not save us. Blessed be His name!

This is a new work, written today, 3 December 2011. I started thinking about this concept about three weeks ago as I began to prepare for Advent, which in itself is a time of preparation. It occurred to me that in ancient history, each nation would claim that its god was supreme. But in all cases, the god was blissfully exempt from all harm (that’s why it was such an affront for God to tump over Dagon and cause the statue to appear to be worshiping the Ark and then to have pieces broken off!). Our God, who is Love, transferred all danger to His only Son, so that we might be saved. What other god would do that? That’s right, there IS no other god!

A blessed Advent to you, as we wait patiently for the coming of the King of all kings and Lord of all lords.

November 10, 2011

Laver of Life

Posted in Advent, Atonement, Epiphany, Holy Week, Sanctification at 6:23 am by Teresa Roberts Johnson

Lord Christ, who cleansed the Jordan
When the waters touched thy head,
Touch thy people, purify us.
For our cleansing thou hast bled.

Precious Giver, thou art given
By thy Father for our sin.
Wash us with thy blood so crimson
That we may be pure within.

We, baptized into thy covenant,
Need thy daily washing still.
Bathe our feet, Lord, in thy goodness
That our hearts may seek thy will.

Thus beautiful, our feet will follow
In thy paths of righteousness,
Bringing tidings of thy mercy
To the nations thou shalt bless.

Copyright © 2011 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)

October 13, 2011

Kinsman Redeemer

Posted in Advent, Atonement, Incarnation, Redeemer, Son of God, Son of Man at 9:48 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

It seems but little skill to speak
Of saving the oppressed and weak,
So I must not equivocate:
My guilt is deep; my sin is great.
A wastrel, I had waxen poor
And sold myself to bondage sore,
Unable to redeem my soul
Or cleanse my garments black as coal.

But You, Lord Christ, my nearest kin,
Were not bowed down by weight of sin.
In love You donned mortality
And sought me out to plead for me.
Your blood redeemed my wretched life;
You made me Your beloved wife.
And breaking every burden’s yoke,
You burned the warrior’s shoe and cloak.

Your kinsman John was sent by God
The mournful martyr’s path to plod.
He needed not remove the shoe
Of his Redeemer, for in You
All that his father Adam sold
Has been regained, with wealth untold.
The prodigal, now shod with peace,
Sings hymns of praise that never cease.

So beautiful on mountains wild
Are feet that bring the Gospel mild!
Now we cross Jordan, sandals dry,
And to Your presence we draw nigh.
Although our shoes shall not wear down,
We’ll cast them off on holy ground
When, all work finished, in repose
Your feet shall rest on all Your foes.

Copyright © 2011 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)

The method I used in writing this poem is one of my favorite. In studying about the kinsman redeemer description in the Law, I became fascinated by the concept of the shoe being removed if the kinsman was unwilling to accept his responsibility. Our Lord, of course, endured the cross to redeem us, and He did so “for the joy that was set before Him” (Hebrews 12:2). But in this study I began to remember that lots of Scriptures mention shoes and/or sandals, so I decided to pull them together into my poetry net.

The first line of the poem may sound familiar to fans of pre-Raphaelite poetry, as it conjures a scene from “The Defence of Guenevere” by William Morris. The half-repentant attitude of Guenevere seemed appropriate as a beginning stance, for even in our best effort to sincerely confess, there is still so much sin in us that we must be brought around slowly to a full understanding of our sinfulness. It is only in seeing how much our Redeemer suffered on our behalf that we begin to recognize the tragedy of sin, and the spiritual poverty, bondage, and uncleanness that it imposes upon us.

The second verse turns our focus from our poverty to His perfection, and then to His sacrificial love. The Son of God became our kin by taking on mortal flesh as the Son of Man, “yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15), and the Church is called the Bride of Christ. The images of loosing burdens and breaking yokes are from Isaiah 58:6 and Isaiah 9:4, which show that our Redeemer sets us free from bondage to sin. The image of ending the battle and burning the shoes and bloody garments of warriors is also found in Isaiah 9, and is the preamble to the well-known promise of the Messiah, the Prince of Peace:

For every warrior’s sandal from the noisy battle,
And garments rolled in blood,
Will be used for burning and fuel of fire.
For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  (Isaiah 9:5-6)

The next verse of the poem may seem to be a bit of a stretch, but the removal of the shoe from an unwilling kinsman seemed somehow related to the enigmatic statement of John Baptist about being unworthy to unloose Jesus’ sandals. The concept I was trying to convey was that even if our Lord had decided not to redeem us, He had every reason to refuse us, and we would have no right to fault Him or to shame Him as would have been done to a delinquent kinsman redeemer (Deuteronomy 25:10). Yet as John Baptist well knew, Jesus would not leave us to the desolation of sin. Like the father of the prodigal, Jesus welcomes us home and gives us robes of righteousness and sandals of peace (Luke 15:22; Ephesians 6:15).

The final verse begins with a reference to Joshua 3 and 4, in which the children of Israel crossed the Jordan dry-shod, and it then refers to Isaiah 52:7, where the feet of the Gospel preacher are declared beautiful. The next lines combine the message of Deuteronomy 29:5, which says that the shoes of the children of Israel did not wear out during their forty-year trek, and the message of Exodus 3:5, which says that Moses was commanded to remove his shoes at the burning bush because he was standing on holy ground. That concept seems contradictory, when you think about it. Under normal circumstances, shoes protect us from the dust of the earth, the dust which the serpent was cursed to eat and to crawl in. Yet even the dust of the earth is made holy by the presence of God, and when it is, we are free to remove our shoes, indeed, we must remove our shoes, to indicate our submission to God and to show that we rest in His goodness. (There is another poem in the contrast between the burning bush and the Passover feast, when the Israelites ate with their coats and shoes on.)

The final line is the promise that the Father made to the Son by saying, “Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool” (Psalm 110:1; Matthew 22:44; Mark 12:36; Luke 20:43; Hebrews 1:13; Hebrews 10:13). His work is finished; ours is not quite finished yet, but when all work is over, as well as all opportunities to repent, He will rest His feet on His enemies.

But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool. For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified. (Hebrews 10:12-14)

As full as this poem is of the imagery of shoes and sandals and feet, it still does not include every concept in that line of thought, so look for more “shoe poetry” in the future. Chasing that concept through the Scripture has been a fascinating study.

The original version of this poem is dated December 31, 2002, and I revised it July 22, 2007 (seminary years!), and again as I posted it. The economy of poetry demands that every word carry its weight, so my continual tinkering is an attempt to pile the most ideas into the fewest words. The original version being written in 2002 means that I was coming out of a very difficult period of time. At some point during trials, we must begin to face the fact that at least some of our trouble may be self-inflicted. That is the message of the entire first verse; sloughing off any excuses and accepting accountability for my own sin. But doing that ultimately makes grace all the sweeter, doesn’t it?

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