Thursday, December 22, 2016

To Foil Thy Foes With Joy

Detail of Serbian fresco of the Nativity of Jesus from Kosovo

In just a few more days we, in the West will be celebrating the birth of our Savior at Christmas.  One of the things I love to do during the Christmas season is to listen to Benjamin Britten's 'A Ceremony of Carols'. He composed it in 1942, during the darkest year of World War II, while he was crossing the Atlantic from the United States to England.   

My favorite movement in the entire piece is based on the fifth stanza from the poem "New Heaven, New War" by 16th century the Jesuit saint and martyr, Fr.Robert Southwell.

These are the concluding stanzas of the poem:


This little babe, a few days old,
Is come to rifle Satan's fold;
All hell doth at his presence quake,
Though he himself for cold do shake,
For in this weak, unarmed wise
The gates of hell he will surprise.


With tears he fights and wins the field;
His naked breast stands for a shield;
His battering shot are babish cries,
His arrows looks of weeping eyes,
His martial ensigns cold and need,
And feeble flesh his warrior's stead.


His camp is pitched in a stall,
His bulwark but a broken wall,
His crib his trench, hay stalks his stakes,
Of shepherds he his muster makes;
And thus, as sure his foe to wound,
The angels' trumps alarum sound. 


My soul, with Christ join thou in fight;
Stick to the tents that he hath pight;
Within his crib is surest ward,
This little babe will be thy guard.
If thou wilt foil they foes with joy,
Then flit not from this heavenly boy.

Jesus was born into our world, not armed with the power to coerce and compel our obedience.  Rather, he came to us disarmed, wielding only the weapons of mercy and love, forgiveness and reconciliation, communion and peace.
As our world reckons power, Jesus had none to speak of.  Yet he overcame the power of sin in our lives and in our world with a different and deeper kind of power, the power of God’s unconditional, self-giving love and the inner transformation that love makes possible.

The  Russian Orthodox bishop, Anthony Bloom, wrote that those whose love is not defeated by suffering acquire the only power that matters: the unconditional power of forgiving those
who inflicted  suffering on them. 

This is the authentic power revealed to us in this tiny baby whose birth we celebrate.

Come, Lord Jesus!

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