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 unable to 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.

August 26, 2011


Posted in Ascensiontide, Christmastide, Creation, Eastertide, Incarnation, Original Sin, Pentecost, Son of God at 9:12 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

Once noble, earth’s dust heard the Lord’s command
To burst forth with abundant sustenance.
Thus grass and trees and all food-bearing plants
Were ready for the lively creature band.

Then, hallowed even more, the lowly dust
Was touched by God to make in His likeness
Mankind to take dominion and to bless
The earth, to be obedient and just.

Had Adam trusted Providence, then Eden’s sod
Would ever have produced enough for all.
Yet reaching up too high, he then did fall
And brought upon mankind the wrath of God.

The serpent, for his part, received the blight
Of eating dust and making violent war
With those in whom God’s image he did mar
By tempting them to turn from God’s pure light.

Then He who breathed His life into the earth
Condemned it to grow thistles with the wheat,
Compelled the man to labor in the heat,
And cursed the woman with great pain in birth.

Now dust we are and go to it again,
And dust and ashes mark our deep regret.
But the Covenant God would not forget dust yet,
For as the dust will number Abraham’s kin.

Awake, and sing, O you who dwell in dust,
For earth has given back the Holy Dead,
And through the One who took away our dread,
We rise again from deadly sin and lust.

For God’s own Son took dust to be His frame
And sanctified the earth by treading here.
He breathed again on those that He held dear
And cleansed them from their deepest dusty shame.

Now blessed are we who would have died alone.
All who receive the Word as fruitful soil
Are noble through the God Incarnate’s toil,
For in Him earth’s dust sits on heaven’s throne.

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

This poem has a sweeping Scriptural scope, beginning joyfully as it does in Genesis 1 with Creation and ending triumphantly with re-creation in the risen, ascended Lord Jesus on the throne of Heaven. Between those happy bookends, it deals with the dusty death proclaimed in the curses of Genesis 3 and announces the hope that is offered in Genesis 13 when the Covenant God promises Abraham to make his descendants as numerous as the dust particles on earth. Interestingly enough, in Genesis 15, when God repeats His promise to give Abraham many descendents, He says they will be as numerous as the stars in the heaven. This theme of raising dust to heaven is completed in the sanctification of dust that was accomplished in the Incarnation. Our salvation is secured by the holy life, bloody death, glorious resurrection, and triumphant ascension of Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Man.

The Fall of man is a fact of life (actually a fact of death, I suppose), yet an even greater fact of life is that our hope is found in the ascension made possible through the work of Jesus Christ. Through Him, we die to sin and rise to newness of life. We ascend every time we are raised to commune with Him, and we will eventually be raised to see Him face to face in our glorified bodies. And with St. John, we hear Him say, “Fear not; I am the first and the last: I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.” (Revelation 1:17b-18)

I suppose if I had to choose a favorite of my poems, it would have to be “Ascension.” The last line is purposely difficult, with lots of consonants banging against each other to slow down the rhythm and make the reader think about the concept of earth’s dust (almost a tongue twister!) dwelling not just in the heavenly places, which would be amazing enough, but on heaven’s very throne. This poem began with my reflection on an Ascension day sermon preached by Father Stuart Smith in 2007. He is now a priest in the Anglican Diocese of Fort Worth, and I am quite certain he is still preaching the Truth.

On a personal note, while I was finishing this poem on September 7, 2007, I was at the bedside of my son James who was enduring a two-day medical procedure in a futile attempt to discover the cause of his seizures. Once I finally had all the words the way I wanted them, I handed James the laptop so that he could read it, and he broke out into that handsome smile that would light up a room and put everyone at ease. Less than five months later he died from complications of a seizure. In my grief, I have found it a great blessing to know that God is not limited by the fragility of these earthen vessels; He chose to work through the Son of Man’s earthen vessel to accomplish our redemption. That is a great comfort to me today of all days. James would have been 33 today.

To God be the glory.

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