Love still takes the risk of birth.

Madeleine L’Engle

I began sharing these “Poems, Prayers, Psalms, and Promises” when the pandemic began, never imagining that I would still be sharing them now! But this brings me to Christmas, when I am going to cheat a little and share not one but two poems as part of this series, both by Madeleine L’Engle. I love the faith-filled honesty of these poems. They are not waxing nostalgic, as we can be tempted to do this time of year, but instead they grapple with the world’s pain in a very real and honest way.

This is no time for a child to be born, Madeleine wrote back in 1973, and if it was true then, it is no less true now. The earth continues to be “betrayed by war and hate.” We may not be worried about comets, but global warming, an unprecedented pandemic, and a 24-hour news cycle filled with endless arguing seem like the comets of 2020, and they have left many of us feeling discouraged and disheartened.

On the surface, this may not be a good time for a child to be born, but then again, our faith leads us to agree with L’Engle when she concludes this poem by stating that “Love still takes the risk of birth.” God’s love for us is willing to take the risk, to send God’s only Son to a young family in a small town in Palestine, to be the savior of this beloved world. How can we help but rejoice in this? And so, as she writes in her other poem, “we cannot wait till the world is sane to raise our songs with joyful voice, for to share our grief, to touch our pain, He came with love: Rejoice! Rejoice!”

Here, then, is my poem, prayer, psalm and promise for Christmas.

Psalm 96:7-13

Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples,
    ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
    bring an offering, and come into his courts.
Worship the Lord in holy splendor;
    tremble before him, all the earth.
Say among the nations, “The Lord is king!
    The world is firmly established; it shall never be moved.
    He will judge the peoples with equity.”
Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
    let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
    let the field exult, and everything in it.
Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy
    before the Lord; for he is coming,
    for he is coming to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
    and the peoples with his truth.

Scripture Readings

The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all. – Titus 2:11

Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. – Luke 2:10-11

Devotional Poems: “The Risk of Birth, Christmas 1973” and “First Coming”
by Madeleine L’Engle

The Risk of Birth, Christmas 1973

This is no time for a child to be born,
With the earth betrayed by war & hate
And a comet slashing the sky to warn
That time runs out & the sun burns late.
That was no time for a child to be born,
In a land in the crushing grip of Rome;
Honour & truth were trampled by scorn–
Yet here did the Saviour make his home.
When is the time for love to be born?
The inn is full on the planet earth,
And by a comet the sky is torn–
Yet Love still takes the risk of birth.

First Coming

He did not wait till the world was ready,
till men and nations were at peace
He came when the Heavens were unsteady
and prisoners cried out for release.

He did not wait for the perfect time.
He came when the need was deep and great.
He dined with sinners in all their grime,
turned water into wine. He did not wait

till hearts were pure. In joy he came
to a tarnished world of sin and doubt.
To a world like ours, of anguished shame
He came, and his Light would not go out. 

He came to a world which did not mesh,
to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.
In the mystery of the Word made Flesh
the Maker of the stars was born.

We cannot wait till the world is sane
to raise our songs with joyful voice,
for to share our grief, to touch our pain,
He came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!

Closing Prayer (Christmas Prayer from Evangelical Lutheran Worship)

Good and loving God, we rejoice in the birth of Jesus, who came among the poor to bring the riches of your grace. As you have blessed us with your gifts, let them be blessing for others. With the trees of the field, with all earth and heaven, we shout for joy at the coming of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

These poems and many others can be found in a collection of Madeleine L’Engle’s poetry:
The Ordering of Love: The New and Collected Poems of Madeleine L’Engle.

This icon is displayed at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem,
at the traditional site of our Lord’s birth.

9 thoughts on “He Did Not Wait Till the Word Was Ready

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