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 29, 2012

A Question Answered

Posted in Atonement, Christmastide, Good Friday, Holy Week, Hope, Incarnation, Original Sin, Redeemer at 10:56 am by Teresa Roberts Johnson

He had given all they ever needed:
Sumptuous food and shelter, life and breath.
But His solemn warning went unheeded:
They disobeyed His word, begetting Death.
Here where their Father’s blessings freely flowed,
They had squandered life and sought a hiding place.
But in the Garden, Love’s voice echoed:
“Where are you?” Then Adam understood disgrace.
Looking past their vain equivocation
God saw souls in need of mercy mild.
He took fig leaves to clothe them with compassion,
And promised to provide a Saving Child.
So from the Cross we hear the cry resound:
“It is finished!” Thus the lost are found!

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

During Christmastide the emphasis is rightly on Bethlehem, but we should never forget that Golgotha looms in the distance, casting a cross-shaped shadow over the manger.

I started this poem on 25 March 2012, when I formed the question and answer concept (“Where are You?” combined with “It is finished!”) and completed it this morning (29 December 2012).

December 28, 2012

Holy Innocents

Posted in Christmastide, Faith, Herod, Holy Innocents, Hope, Sanctification, Suffering at 7:33 am by Teresa Roberts Johnson

Our lives, O Lord, rest safely in Your hand,
And nothing on this earth can thwart Your plan.
Your enemy—and ours—has many spies.
He sends his minions forth to spread his lies.
They plot against the Kingdom You hold dear;
They strut and roar to cause your people fear.
They would have even murdered Lazarus;
Most certainly they rage and threaten us.
Herod conspires to murder innocents,
While Pilate washes hands in wickedness.
Teach us, O Lord, to trust Your endless grace
And every joy or sorrow to embrace.
We are the clay and You the Potter kind,
The fire strengthens what You have designed.
For in the furnace one thing burns away:
Our fetters fall, Your glory to display.

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

The collect for the Feast of The Holy Innocents contains a line that many find offensive. It speaks of God having made “infants to glorify [Him] by their deaths.” But this phrase most certainly does not mean that He is using us for some dark and selfish purpose. To the contrary, that phrase should give us hope that none of our suffering is wasted and that nothing our enemies can say or do will destroy us. We can trust in Him to bring about all things to our good and His glory. The passages this poem should bring to mind are Genesis 3:15, John 12:9-11, Matthew 2, Matthew 27, Isaiah 64:7-9, Daniel 3, and Romans 8:28.

I started this poem on 25 October 2012, and completed it this morning during my meditations on this solemn day of remembrance. May God bless all the Holy Innocents who suffer for His sake.

December 27, 2012

Ever After

Posted in Christmastide, Faith, Hope, Incarnation, Suffering at 12:12 am by Teresa Roberts Johnson

The shepherds soon returned to the green field,
With greater joy than they had ever found.
Spurred on by news the angels had revealed,
They spread the word of Christ throughout their town.
His mother Mary kept these memories always,
And pondered God’s redemption in her heart.
But did the shepherds’ joy survive dark days?
And did their faith and hope ever depart
When sheep fell prey to dangers in the wild,
When illness took the finest of the flock,
When burying a wife or precious child,
When they were old and could no longer walk?
No, for if their courage should begin to wane,
They heard the angels singing once again.

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

Not much explanation is needed here. The Biblical account in Luke 2 is supplemented with a bit of conjecture, for the purpose of inspiring hope in the promises of God.

After reading the nativity account in Luke, I began to wonder what life had to be like for those who were touched directly by His presence in those early days. I had to think that once a person had heard angels praising God, it would be very difficult to be discouraged ever again. The message of salvation is the only true “happily ever after.”

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 29, 2011

He Is Not Here

Posted in Ascensiontide, Atonement, Christmastide, Eastertide, Holy Spirit, Incarnation, Redeemer, Son of God, Son of Man, Suffering Servant, The Eucharist tagged , , , at 8:37 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

Why stand you here to gaze and seek His face?
He’s gone from Bethlehem, the house of bread.
Now broken ‘round the world, the Bread brings grace
Surpassing cattle stall and manger bed.

He stands not in the temple to amaze,
Nor sits upon the hill to bless and teach.
But as the Word is preached and voices praise,
His Father’s business o’er the earth will reach.

Gethsemane does not confine His prayers,
Nor does the Court of Pilate bind His love.
From heaven He invokes aid for His heirs
And to His Bride He sends the Holy Dove.

The Cross from whence He cried the end of woe
Is empty now, but there He did atone.
The empty tomb dealt death its lethal blow.
His rising raises you to heights unknown.

Why stand you here to gaze, you earth-bound ones?
Earth cannot hold the Sovereign Lord.
But rather, over all His glory runs,
Till heaven sings with earth in one accord!

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

This morning I was overcome by a phrase: “The manger is as empty as the tomb.” The concept quickly grew in my head, and I began to recount all of the places on earth where the physical presence of Jesus isn’t anymore. But it is precisely because He won the victory and then returned to Heaven to prepare a place for us that we have hope beyond this world. He tells us in John 15 and 16 that His leaving is for our own good and that He will send the Holy Ghost to empower the Church to carry out His work throughout the earth. We are idolators at heart and would have latched onto His physical presence and completely forgotten our greater purpose.

As wonderful as Christmas is, and as important as it is for us to dwell at times on the various events of the life of Jesus, we must never forget that He transcends all of that, for if He doesn’t we are of all men most miserable! The poem title is a bit deceptive. To be sure, the physical Jesus is not here. But He is always with us, in the Spirit, in the Church, in the Word. And He has given us the awesome commission to spread the Gospel to the uttermost parts of the earth (Matthew 28:19-20). But He has also given us His promise that the Gospel will succeed: “But as truly as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD” (Numbers 14:21). “For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14).

Written 29 December 2011. The interesting thing about the poem is that I kept trying to work in the line that got it all started in my head, and I found that it just didn’t fit.

December 24, 2011

On Christmas Day

Posted in Christmastide, Incarnation, Sanctification, Spiritual Warfare, Suffering, The Eucharist tagged at 12:41 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

Just as it seemed redemption was postponed,
That evil reigned and we would be disowned.
The Light of God pierced through our wintry night,
And scattered all that would offend or blight.
His great compassion meets our low estate
With blessings rich and paths made straight.
Come, weary wanderer, and refresh your soul
For He has come to make the broken whole.
To give sight to the blind, the captive free,
To end sin’s reign as prophets did foresee.
The sorrowful sighing ended, joy abounds,
And praise for our triumphant King resounds.
Yea, come and find His coffers open wide
For He has taken us to be His Bride.
He bids us not unto a dark and lowly stable
But invites us to His well provisioned table.

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

As I continued my Christmas reflections today before going to midnight mass, the last two lines of this poem came blurting out, and they needed an introduction. That part came from Psalm 79 and Isaiah 61/Luke 2-4.

Two poems written in one day. That’s a record for me. The last few weeks have been extremely difficult. I guess the words flow freely from a heart that is forced to seek the Healer.

Update: I changed one line in the entry “On Christmas Day.” I had read the line 20 times and knew what I meant when I wrote it, but when I saw it again two hours later, I realized it could be taken another way that was completely unacceptable. Revision complete!

On Christmas Eve

Posted in Christmastide, Creation, Holy Spirit, Incarnation, Redeemer, Sanctification, Son of God at 9:13 am by Teresa Roberts Johnson

Hovering Dove, whose wings smoothed chaos into form
When “Let there be” spoke earth from nothingness,
Send forth the Sun of Righteousness
Whose healing wings convert the night to morn;
Scatter the scavenger birds that steal my peace
And threaten to undo what You have made.
Like Boaz, spread your wings to give me shade.
Redeem me, and from every fear release.
Word of God, speak truth where falsehoods reign,
For loving truth will silence fiery darts of lies.
Transfigure me, Your icon; as self dies
Show me your glory, that I may not strive in vain,
The glory Moses could not see until, the heavens riven,
Eternal glory in the Son of God was given.

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

Christmas is the time when we most seem to show that we simply do not “get” God’s plan. Propounders of the prosperity gospel tell us all year around that God wants to bless us with material stuff, and at Christmas time we seem to believe them. I do not believe that Jesus came to this earth so that I might have a flat-screen television. I believe He came to give me Himself, His glorious presence in my life, bringing peace and hope, but bringing also a cross of self-denial, the way of suffering that Christ Himself has trod. That, my friends, is our Christmas gift: the cross and the Cross, the opportunity to be transformed into His glorious image as we deny self more and more. That may not be the message people want to hear on Christmas, but it is the only one that saves.

The idea for this poem was born on one of my long drives to work this week. The last six miles is a lovely farmland/wilderness area with few houses, and I spend a lot of time enjoying God’s handiwork. I often see hawks or deer, but this week there was a flock of ravens in my path gloating over some morsel they had found, and as my car approached, they scattered. My mind immediately went to the parable of the birds that steal the seeds of faith. I kept repeating the phrase “scatter the scavenger birds” to myself until I had time to sit down and write the rest of the poem!

And so my best advice to all is this: never drive on the same road as a writer, for a writer’s mind may wander at the drop of a hat.

December 23, 2011

Festal Dirge

Posted in Atonement, Christmastide, Eastertide, Incarnation, Redeemer, Son of God, Son of Man tagged , at 6:05 am by Teresa Roberts Johnson

In the midst of life we are in death.

From her, the Mother of all Life,
Who killed her children with one bite,
We all inherit bitter strife
And in the midst of life are dead.
Hail, Eve, we quake in dread
With you and Adam as our head,
Who doomed our race with sin
So that the Promised One must win
The battle for your banished kin.

In the midst of death we are in life.

From her, whose name means Bitter One,
Sprang forth our hope, for in God’s Son
The birthright of new birth was won.
Hail, Mary, blessed by Grace,
Whose Son for Adam’s ruined race
Has turned away God’s wrathful face!
Christ was Eve’s Abel and her Seth,
Who in the midst of bitter death
Bestows eternal life and breath.

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

Several years ago a dear friend of mine was gravely ill for several months, and he found great comfort reading his prayer book, specifically The Order for the Burial of the Dead. Now, that may sound morbid to you, but it is actually the most sensible response to the prospect of impending death because the funeral liturgy is filled with not only the grim reality that our mortal life must end, but also the bright hope that death is not the end of life for those whose trust is placed in Jesus Christ.

Written 31 December 2002 and edited 17 March 2008. I edited the second verse again today to link the concepts of birthright and new birth.

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