Last week I posted a Christmas poem by Geerhardus Vos. That, however, was not the only such poem he wrote.
The second poem in an earlier volume of verse, called Charis (1931), 1 bears the same title as the poem in the previous post: “Nativity.” Like the later poem, this earlier one focuses a good amount of attention on Mary, with a Protestant inflection: the Virgin is Theotokos and worthy of respect and honor as she “who the babe conceived,” which makes her different from all of us–but also because she “humbly believed,” in which we ought to be the same.
But unlike the previous poem, this one also directs attention toward Elizabeth (whose name means, a footnote explains, “God is my Oath”), for it is she who first called Mary “the mother of my Lord.”
For Vos, Christmas morning is the dawning of great joy for the Christian soul. For on this day, “a world is born,” a new world in which the reign of God has been manifested in man’s flesh. “Be present,” therefore, he exhorts his soul: attend to what has occurred, the great rupture in time and space. Otherwise, one misses “the jubilance…of…Angels.” Though we were not with the kings and shepherds, we nevertheless–and paradoxically–are with them: all Christians “are of thy company/Nativity!”
So great, indeed, is the glory of God on earth that–again paradoxically–while we are simultaneously present in the circumstances of the divine incursion (“Midst all the marvels of the place”), Christ eclipses them all (“Only the marvel on thy face,/Forgetful of the others”).
Yet this is no imagination of a vague and abstract divine idea nor a mere phantom sensation of the holy. God became a real man, a real infant, really knit together in his mother’s womb, so that–a third paradox–even while the speaker of the poem is “forgetful of the others,” the “smile” of Christ is “reflecting of the mother’s,” that is, it displays his true humanity–our humanity. That is the meaning of Emmanuel, “God with us.”
The Gospel saith,
A kinswoman with that good name
Greeted the Virgin as she came:
“Mother of her Lord Savior.”
None bears in Scripture-registry
That name but she,
Though many, doubtless, bore it well
Of handmaidens in Israel,
Ere it was linked with Mary’s.
And Mary, who the babe conceived,
Fore-feeling the exultant cry:
“Henceforth shall me beatify
All future generations.”
O soul, rise early on this morn
A world is born;
Be present on such dawn as this,
Lest thou the jubilance shouldst miss
Of morning-stars and Angels.
We, too, are of thy company,
With Kings that, guided by their star,
Brought gold and incense from afar,
With shepherds from their pastures.
How strange, while worshipping we kneel,
I seem to feel,
Midst all the marvels of the place,
Only the marvel on thy face,
Forgetful of the others.
The Kings, leaving their gifts, withdrew;
The shepherds, too.
Wilt thou not stay with me a while?
I love to see thine eyes the smile
Reflecting of the mother’s.