The Christmas gift of a poem


By Father Joseph Breighner

A humorist once commented that only Francis Scott Key knew all the verses to the Star Spangled Banner – Our National Anthem.

I think the same may be true of the hymn: “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”. Most of us know the first verse:

“O come, O come Emmanuel

And ransom captive Israel

That mourns in lonely exile here.

Until the Son of God appear.”

Most of us sing the first verse with great gusto. And, of course, the chorus:

“Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel, shall come to thee O Israel.”

But I have found that verses six and seven, the last two verses, contain some of the most profound meaning in the hymn:

“O come, thou dayspring from on high,

And cheer us by thy drawing nigh.

Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,

And death’s dark shadow put to flight.


O come, Desire of nations, bind

In one the hearts of all mankind;

Bid every strife and quarrel cease,

And fill the world with heaven’s peace.”

Advent represents our deepest longing. We long for a world where there is no more death. We long for a world where all the peoples of the world will be at peace.

Christmas is the fulfillment of our deepest longings. We believe that Christ came to die to show us that death was not the end. And, his farewell gift to us was the gift of peace. Jesus was love in human form. And he came to share that we have the same love living inside us. And just as we must make a decision to come to Christ, so God had to make a decision to come to us.

So, as my Christmas gift to you, allow me to share a poem I wrote as a newly ordained priest, trying to capture that decisive moment.

“No one can know the mind of God. No one can pretend to fathom the depths of infinite love and infinite wisdom. It seems almost sacrilgious to try to enter the mind of God to put words there. Yet, from our human point of view, there must have been a time in the timelessness of eternity, when God had to decide to become human. Since all time is present to God, since God could see both the future and the past of human history, why did God enter that history?

If we might be so bold as to imagine that choice, if we could put words where in fact there was only a Word, perhaps it would sound something like this:

“I hear the world groaning in such terrible pain,

And I see the tears of the innocent run dry.

I watch humans shackled by sins selfish reign

As they turn anguished eyes to the sky.


What can I do for these people I made?

How can I touch and dry up their tears?

Perhaps I can brighten life’s darkening shade,

By entering history for a period of years.


But the terrible truth – so terrible, so true,

Is that many will not care that I came.

A manger, a cross, a grave are my due.

Who will notice but the poor and the lame?


Why do I love my people so?

Why enter their hate-filled streams?

Why do I want my people to know,

That God cherishess their hopes and their dreams?


When life’s dawn broke that first perfect day,

Human goodness and greatness stood free.

Now new life must be breathed onto a darkened way,

And that can only be done by me.


So I know I will go into the world’s tangled night.

I will go because I can’t stay away.

If I touch but one person with love’s tender might,

Then the night will be conquered by day.


And so it came to pass, that there were shepherds in the field. There was a baby in a manger. God was with his people! Merry Christmas!

 Copyright (c) Dec. 21, 2012



Catholic Review

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.