A sermon by Dr Donald T. Williams - donaldtwilliams.com
12/20/2004THE SEED An Advent Meditation On the Incarnation of our Lord Prologue Oh Sight Beyond All Seeing Oh sight beyond all seeing Light in the dark of the sun, Fact behind the face of Being, Second of Three in the One: What motive could have moved you hither thus? The Life that was ever begotten, never begun, Began to be born, to mourn. For us The daring deed was done. Burned by Angel-light, The shepherds' eyes were blind To everything except the sight That they went forth to find. It was a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, Laid in a manger: such had been the sign. The sign they saw by then still shows The perilous paths that wind Between the Tree and the Tree. This much the sign makes clear: The Light invisible we see, The silent Word we hear. What motive could have moved him hither thus? We hear pegs pounded, see the thrusted spear, We hear, "Forgive them!" Now for us The day of doom draws near. THE SEED I Overview The dog cried out with the voice of a man suffering, Low and hoarse, the throat tense and hollow; Never before, that cry, and never since, And then but once with the first one--afterwards, silence. My hand on her head, accepted but not acknowledged, The brown eyes focussed on something beyond us both-- Then licking, breaking of membranes, puppies breathing, No luck with the nipples at first, but soon sucking, The hand acknowledged now, the eyes tired. Six puppies and I don't know how many hours Were born in the time of releasing a single sigh. For the woman it was one child only, but more hours: Twenty-one in the room with the tubes and passing nurses, My hand on her shoulder, accepted and acknowledged, The hazel eyes focussed on a spot on the far wall To foster concentration on the rhythms, The breathing we'd practiced and practiced to ward off pain; Looking through the spot, searching for something That had flashed in the sad brown eyes six months before. From the room next door there came the sounds of groaning, The woman's voice unmistakable, low and hoarse, The throat tense and hollow--the voice of the beagle. My woman would let no cry escape, but panted, And finally simply said,"I cannot do this!" Then, past all waiting, hoping, and despairing, The child was there, alive, slimy, crying, And I said, "What in the world are we going to do now?" "Take her home and love her." And I wonder how it was for Eve the first time, In a tent or a cave outside the walls of Eden With no one to tell her, "It will be like this." For she would be the first who would remember, The first to find the words to help another. But now there was only Adam, shaking and helpless, And Eve, shaking and shaken, the blood pounding Her head with the words remembered and carried from Eden, The Strife of the Seed and the Serpent, the Hope of the Bruising. And then she felt it: the Serpent constricting to kill her! She bellowed defiance, her hands clenched white in the skin Of the beast that the furious Jahweh had killed for a covering: This above all she would cling to, pass on to her daughters. She whispered to Adam, "I've gotten a man from the Lord." And the years passed, and the seed strove with the darkness, And Eden became a memory, faint and painful, And men strove to forget, and some succeeded, And the waters rose and fell, and Noah came through them, And the Tower rose and fell, and the peoples were scattered, And then there was Sarah, old and toothless and laughing, But her laughter died in a pain that was old as Eve. And Ruth lay down and uncovered the feet of Boaz, And knew not what was at stake (and yet, she knew), And David wore the crown, sweet singer of Israel. There were twenty-eight generations from David to Mary. And Mary was a young girl far from home, And the best that Joseph could do for her was a stable, And her time came, and only the shepherds knew it. That night the sword pierced her heart for only the first time, And the first and the last were alike, the birth and the death: The pain, then the life, the death, then the resurrection, The Seed's heel bruised again, the head of the Serpent Finally crushed. She pondered the sword in her heart, The wheat falling and dying, the fruit brought forth (For the light shines from an empty tomb in Jerusalem, And childbirth itself was made that that might be), The pain and the joy, life, the song and the sorrow. The years that have passed have given us things to remember. I remember the hand on the head, the silky ears, The brown eyes wide with surprise, but patient, waiting; Then later the hand on the woman's side, guided By her's, from the depths within, the foot, kicking. I remember the shoulders under my hands, the cold sweat. I look at my daughter now, running and playing, Squealing with joy, stooping to pat the beagle, And think, when she is older I will tell her, "We strive still, the woman's seed, with the darkness, Though all strive to forget, and some succeed, But my first sight of you there with your mother Will help me remember, make me think and remember The cost to the woman, the cost to the Seed of the Woman." Perhaps the words will be with her when her time comes; Her mother will read them now, and understand. II Campfire Tale "I will tell you a story. It is a true story, I did not make it up. I learned it word for word from the way the words Followed each other like first stars in the dark When they came to me the first time, long ago. I am still learning it. And though it grows in the telling, it does it the way A seed grows into a cedar, because the cedar Was there in the seed all along, and had to grow. You can find them tall and majestic in the fields, Daring the lightning, or stooped, twisted, stunted, Clutching at some impossible crack in a rock, Living on soil they had to grind themselves, But living to scatter their seed. You are hearing the story from me, I am telling it now. The seeds ride on the wind. If I should stop, Sooner or later one would take root near you; You find them growing in unexpected places. I will tell you a story." "The story has no beginning, but we will start With a cold night in the desert, the stars fierce, A light wind stirring the sand, the hints of dawn As yet too faint to challenge the blazing blackness. There is no moon tonight, you must look closely. You see that hill? It seems to be moving. Ha! It is a tent collapsing. There are camels Kneeling to be loaded. I hear bleating Of sheep. And there, that man off to the side, He seems oblivious to the whole commotion, Standing motionless against the sky As if in meditation. One of the servants Approaches him now, but stops, patiently waiting. That man must be the master here. He sees The servant, sighs, and turns back toward the others. I've lost him, but he must be mounted now; There go the camels, lurching, one by one, Rising clumsily into the sky. And now they're moving. What a host they've got! How could we have missed those flocks? They're gone. Before the sun is up the wind will sweep Away all signs that they were ever here." The boy stared deep in the fire. "You tell it as if You were there when it happened, as if it were happening now." "And how do you know it isn't?" The old man's eyes Glinted. He shoved a stick in deeper and made The sparks fly up. "The story is still going on, And you and I are in it. The man was traveling With everything he owned, cattle, servants, Their wives and children, deeper into the desert. None of them knew where they were going or why. His wife had asked him point-blank, and he had told her That God had told him to go, and that was that. Some of them even believed him!" The light of the fire Showed a smile that wrinkled the old man's cheeks At the point. "Yes, there were some of them that believed him." The old man paused 'til the boy thought he'd fallen asleep, But then he shook his head. "It is not to be thought That the man knew fully himself why the journey was ordered. He thought it had something to do with becoming a nation. The begetting of seed was central in it somehow, And some great blessing for all mankind was at stake. He thought it had something to do with the Curse and the Promise Of Eden, the Seed that was coming to bruise the Serpent." "So that old story's the same as this one?" "Yes. There is only one story you know. But all he knew Was that Jahweh had told him to leave Ur of the Chaldees And God had promised a land and a seed and a blessing." This time it was the boy who stirred the fire. "And did he ever find the land he was seeking?" The old man laughed. "Well, we are here now, aren't we?" "And did he find the seed?" The old man's hand Descended gently on the boy's young shoulder. "The story goes no further for tonight. We'd better get some sleep now, for tomorrow We'll come to the place appointed for sacrifice. Tomorrow night we may know more of the story, And if we do we'll tell it to each other." The fire was watchful beside them through the night, And the silent tears of Abraham were tiny Pools of mud in the dust by the sleeping form Of Isaac the promised seed. It was a cold Night on the edge of the desert, the stars fierce, The hints of dawn still faint, but growing stronger, A light wind stirring the thicket where the ram Had gotten himself entangled on the mountain. III The Moment The seed had slept some fourteen years, but now There was more than silent darkness: something new, A gentle motion, growing warmth. Somehow The tiny cell knew what it had to do: Glide on and be receptive to its fate, Either a greater change, or death. The girl Felt nothing whatsoever when the weight That counterpoises all the blazing swirl Of suns we call the universe was pressed To needle concentration down and driven Into her belly. She could not have guessed The power of the gift so softly given; The egg would never be the same again. It would have been annihilated by The impact if the same force had not been Within, sustaining. Men who watched the sky Were startled by a star they did not know; The demons trembled, and did not know why; In Mary's womb, the Seed began to grow. IV The Carpenter's Son He loved to watch his father work the wood: To take the rough timber, plane it smooth, Lay out the lines and cut and join, and soon A table, bed, or chest would stand before you. The boy could hardly speak in sentences As yet, but he could think, and what he thought Was more than Milton could have found the words for. Every movement summoned up for him Sights he'd never seen, but still remembered: From father's simple angles surged a swirl Of spheres moving in concentric circles, Frightening in complexity and speed But pure and elegant in symmetry, In ratios recognized but left unnamed-- The scraping of the plane was wind and water, Incessant singing of the sea and air, The slow grinding of suspended dust-- He ran his hand along the grain and felt The tree's intensity in lifting water To leaves, turning sunlight into sugar, All to fuel its joy in raising branches To Heaven in praise of . . . . an he felt the praise. He was not ready even yet to name This knowledge that the wood had brought to him. He felt it shudder in his hands, recalling Axe-blows to its roots as living tree, And clenched it tight until it pained his palms And forced the sweat in beads out on is forehead, And thought of nothing else until his father Told him gently, "Son, it's time for supper." He was merry again at meat, and made them laugh; But later when they'd tucked him into bed, They climbed up on the roof to feel the cool Peace of evening as the stars came out. In muffled tones that mingled joy and worry They talked awhile, turning over the thing That had come to them to try and see it clearly. The stars helped, reminding them of the night When all had seemed so plain: the birth-joy, pure Shared with the shepherds, unalloyed by pain, The hope of help from Heaven for their people Realized at last. Then too, he'd seemed So small and helpless, just like all the other Newborns they had held--nieces, nephews. It was easy to believe he was really theirs, And that was happiness enough. The hard Words of Gabriel, "Over shadowed . . . Holy . . . Yeshuah . . . Savior . . . King," were for the future Or the past. For now, let's just enjoy him! It was not to be. The eighth day, journey, Jerusalem, the time for circumcision: "That crazy old man in the Temple Who came right up and took him from my arms, Do you remember?" "How could I forget? As if we didn't have enough to ponder. 'A light of revelation to the Gentiles,' He said, and what they have to do with it I'd like to know!" "It's in Isaiah." "Maybe. But let him see to his own people first, I say." "But Joseph, Joseph, you're forgetting The worst part. He's appointed for the fall Of many within Israel, and a sign To be opposed--and that about the sword!" "I know. And if there's any pain to be Inflicted in all this, he'll bear the brunt. I see it in him now, and that's the worst. Last Friday in the shop I cut my hand-- You'd thought I'd cut his heart to see his face-- And he came up and asked if he could take it. I thought he meant my hand. He took the pain! I mean, he took it, not just to discard it-- He absorbed it somehow, and he held it For just a moment, and then it was gone." "Yes, I know. He does that. But remember When we got back and finally found that house, Those strange men from the East. Now, they were Gentiles, And called him king of Jews, but worshiped him As if he were their own." "And brought him presents." "Yes. Do you remember what the third one Said when he had laid his coffer down?" "'He will have need of this.' And when we opened It up it was completely full of myrrh." "Embalming spice!" "I don't know what it means. I don't know what he means. I don't know anything Except he makes me sad and glad together 'Til I can hardly tell the two apart." "Maybe it has to be that way awhile So that the joy can win out in the end." "If that is so, the pain will triumph first. You mark my words." "Yes, that's what I'm afraid of." The starlight was too dim to show the pair An answer to their questions, and almost Too dim to show them going down to bed. But it kept shining after they were gone On a band of shepherds somewhere to the south And three old wizards hidden in the east Who were occupied with questions of their own. V The Knowledge The knowledge slept inside him like a seed. Sometimes he felt it opening, putting down Its roots into his soul, or sending up Tentative feelers toward the conscious mind. His appetite for learning was voracious: It always felt more like remembering, As if he knew all things somewhere deep down, But could not think them 'til he met with something In this strange world of sight and sound and texture To give them substance, clothe them with a form Which tongue and lips could grasp and turn to sound. The Word unheard and those he learned for speaking Moved toward each other in the throbbing Darkness just behind his consciousness; A Light beyond the sight of mortal men, But one he sensed, was there--and all his thoughts, Like moths flitting on a summer evening, Kept circling toward that light and what it meant. The roots sank deeper and the shoots pushed upward. Lilies bloomed in the fields and the birds flew, Summer and winter, seedtime and harvest came, Wheat died and was buried and brought forth fruit, Men haggled over it in the market, And Mary kneaded leaven into the dough. All these things worked like leaven in his spirit To swell the growing knowledge of who he was. The strangeness of it never quite wore off: To know all things and yet to have to learn, To have to sort things out and search for truth-- If anything, it grew as he grew older And the seed began to sprout and put forth leaves. "Tell me again--what did the angel say The day he told you that I would be coming? Was he the same the shepherds saw? I wonder." Meshiach, the Anointed, throne of David, Yeshuah, save his people from their sins, Immanuel, God with us: all she told him Was like the Spring rain and the summer sun. He began to recognize his Father's voice (Like, and yet unlike, the voice of Joseph) In those few phrases, like a little child Who cannot understand the words, but gets The tone, full of authority and love. Both tone and words sank deep into the soil To feed and form the quickly growing plant. He was put to school at the synagogue to learn That words were made of sounds, and sounds had shapes That could be put down on paper or skin and kept, And made back into words again at will. Now he read the Torah for himself. The Father's voice was unmistakable: The rain splashed on the leaves, the sun was warm, And the roots dug in and fruit began to form. The Woman was promised a seed, and Abel was killed, And then the seed was Abraham's, and Isaac Climbed the mountain and asked, "Where is the ram?" And had to climb the altar to get his answer. Moses' bush was lit with the fire that burned In the boy's own bones without consuming them; Pharaoh's stubbornness only stoked the flames Until they did consume his firstborn son. Israel journeyed swiftly with their sons, But every family left with one lamb less. The Fire came down again, and Sinai smoked. A pillar of fire by night, a cloud by day; Forty scapegoats scattered through the desert, And every year the bull was brought, and every Year they had to bring it once again. This year it would be brought, and he would be there; Son of the Covenant, he would make the trip And see the City where the prophets suffered. The flame that burned the bush and left it standing, The fire that fueled the sun and kept it burning, That roared from Sinai to dispel the darkness, That flamed behind his mind and lit his way, That burned inside the seed and forced it open, That was the light of the world, the life of men, Yet would destroy them if not cooled with blood, Burned low before the altar in the Temple And called him with a voice that was his own. One question yet must come into its light: Seed of the Woman, Seed of Abraham-- If such a seed were planted, what would grow? A bush aflame with love and holiness, A light of revelation to the Gentiles, Of course. But that same light had shone before, And men loved darkness. How could it burn brighter? How would he justify the angel's naming: Yeshuah, savior of his people from Their sins, not Rome or Babylon. And this time, In what wild thicket would the ram be found? The ceremonies themselves were disappointing. You couldn't really see, and all the people Were rough and noisy--hardly seemed to think Of what was going on or why. The Temple Was grand, but really only just a building, Just one stone on another after all. The Shekinah was long departed, and in its place Were things that did not satisfy at all: Moneychangers, sheep, birds in cages. The fire burned in the corners of his eyes, But he held his peace until his time was come. Meanwhile there was one thing that held his interest: In the portico the learned rabbis Gathered to hold discourse with their disciples And any others who might seek their wisdom. The Father's voice was faint, a far-off echo, Like words passed through too many mouths until They come out scrambled. Even that compelled him And drew him like a magnet. For awhile He listened quietly and did not speak. Then suddenly the Father's voice cut sharply, Like a sword. One of the sages took A large scroll and carefully unrolled it; One of the prophets the boy had not yet read. "For he shall grow up like a tender plant, A root from dry ground . . . we esteemed him not. Surely he hath born our griefs and carried Our sorrows. He was wounded--bruised--chastised For our transgressions and iniquities, And like a lamb to slaughter he was led." And time stood still for him, and there was only The Word and how it echoed in his soul. "Who is this Servant, and when will he come?" The rabbis knew what everyone had said For half a thousand years about the subject, But never seemed to get down to the answer. And then his parents came, and he was shocked To know he'd put them through three days of worry. "I had to be about my Father's business," Was all the explanation he could offer, And it hurt to know that they could not understand. Then on the long walk home to Nazareth They worried that he seemed preoccupied. He was. The trunk was growing stout and strong, Though still the leaves were tender, and the roots Were beginning to feel the dryness of the ground. He would be merry again, but for awhile He wept like Jeremiah, and his parents Chafed at their inability to help him. Seed of the Woman, Seed of Abraham-- If such a seed were planted, what would grow? He knew he was beginning at last to know. VI The Seed And so the Seed was planted and it grew. And though it seemed an ordinary tree, The Gardener knew what it was to do. That every kind of bird that ever flew Should nest upon its limbs was the decree, And so the Seed was planted and it grew. Though any reason why it should be true Was more than men as yet had eyes to see, The Gardener knew what it was to do. Although the soil was dry, and rocky too, The branches spread out strong and green and free: And so the Seed was planted and it grew. If growth so rich could be left to accrue-- But that was not the way it was to be; The Gardener knew what it had to do. Chop it down, a lifeless stump? And who Could see hope in such heartless husbandry? But so the Seed was planted, and it grew: The Gardener knew what he had to do.
Here endeth the meditation. Dr. Donald T. Williams