Five Minutes on Friday #12

This week, a Christmas miscellany.   Claire and I wish all of you a joyous noel season and a happy new year.


Christ Climbed Down by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Christ Climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
there were no rootless Christmas trees
hung with candycanes and breakable stars

Christ Climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
there were no gilded Christmas trees
and no tinsel Christmas trees
and no tinfoil Christmas trees
and no pink plastic Christmas trees
and no black Christmas trees
and no powderblue Christmas trees
hung with electric candles
and encircled by tin electric trains
and clever cornball relatives

Christ Climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
no intrepid Bible salesman
covered the territory
in two-tone cadillacs
and where no Sears Roebuck creches
complete with plastic babe in manger
arrived by parcel post
the babe by special delivery
and where no televised Wise Men
praised the Lord Calvert Whiskey

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year and ran away to where
no fat handshaking stranger
in a red flannel suit
and a fake white beard
went around passing himself off
as some sort of North Pole saint
crossing the desert to Bethlehem
in a Volkswagon sled
drawn by rollicking Adirondack reindeer
with German names
and bearing sacks of Humble Gifts
from Saks Fifth Avenue
for everybody’s imagined Christ child

Christ Climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
no Bing Crosby Carollers
groaned of a tight Christmas
and where no Radio City angels
iceskated wingless
thru a winter wonderland
into a jinglebell heaven
daily at 8:30
with Midnight Mass matinees

Christ Climbed Down
from His bare Tree
this year
and softly stole away into
some anonymous Mary’s womb again
where in the darkest night
of everybody’s anonymous soul
He awaits again
an unimaginable
and impossibly
Immaculate Reconception
the very craziest
of Second Comings.



‘River’  (Joni Mitchell)    A poignant song of remembering a prairie winter in the midst of relationship difficulties.

‘This Christmastide’ (Jessye’s carol)  Jessye Norman and the American Boy Choir.   This song was written especially for Jessye Norman.  It was new to me but it moved me to tears the first time I heard her sing it.

‘Unto us a Son is born’  (Handel’s Messiah)



The Census at Bethlehem -  Peter Bruegel the Elder

Luke describes the event. “And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered… Joseph went to Bethlehem to be registered with Mary, who was with child.” For Bruegel, the event is contemporary, taking place in his native Belgium in the harshest of winters. Mary and Joseph are just two more poor people trudging through the freezing air to queue for this ruthlessly imposed bureaucracy. The only thing that distinguishes them in the general misery and chaos is the proverbial donkey.

Mary and Joseph on the Way to Bethlehem (Portinari Altarpiece) -

Hugo van der Goes

Mary and Joseph are on their way through a rocky landscape. She has climbed down from the donkey, perhaps afraid of riding down such a perilous, ankle-breaking slope. Joseph, grizzled and weary, is helping her along with all his loving kindness, his actions (rather than her physical appearance) suggesting just how pregnant she is. Jesus’ earthly father is generally portrayed as ineffectual but not in this vision, a detail from the famous Portinari Altarpiece in Florence. He is doing everything he can, as husband and prospective new father, to protect his little family from hardship and danger.

The Nativity -  Federico Barrocci,

Of all the many thousands of nativity scenes in western art, this one is among the most tenderly maternal. Mary kneels humbly before her God, but she is equally full of love for her newborn baby. Mother and child gaze into each other’s eyes and the whole composition emphasises their mutual bond. The art of Barrocci, until recently one of the most overlooked of Italian masters, was especially popular with women in his lifetime and it is not hard to see why from this nativity, in which the radiant child illuminates the exquisitely loving face of Mary.

The Adoration of the Shepherds -  Giorgione

The mysterious Giorgione left very few works at his premature death, but this one is a masterpiece of contemplation. The elderly Joseph is deep in prayer, Mary holds a pose of silent worship before the Christ child, whose hazy face appears so inward-looking. The shepherds, in their ragged clothes, are speechless and spellbound, but full of love for the baby. They are the first to arrive, the first to understand what they are seeing, before the rest of the crowd arrives. The scene is very close and intimate, against the distant Venetian landscape. Not a sheep in sight. By their humility shall you know the shepherds.

[Source: The Guardian online]


The Work of Christmas

Howard Thurman

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
          To find the lost,
          To heal the broken,
          To feed the hungry,
          To release the prisoner,
          To rebuild the nations,
          To bring peace among people,
          To make music in the heart.