The scene is familiar. A baby is sleeping.
His mother’s worn out. It’s been a hard day.
A few hours before she was groaning and weeping,
just a child, giving birth in the usual way.
The place doesn’t matter, except it’s not cosy
the way that the prettiest Christmas cards say,
with kings humbly kneeling, the stable all rosy,
the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.
Forget the carol constructed so neatly—
the cattle are lowing, the baby awakes.
Forget the Sundayschool singing so sweetly
that little Lord Jesus no crying he makes.
The baby is crying. The baby is human
and the baby is God and he cries with the shock.
He cries for the keys to his coming kingdom.
He cries for the devil who first picked the lock.
He cries for the mother whose heart will be broken.
He cries for the children that Herod will find.
He cries for the father whose fears are unspoken
but for ever will trouble his uncertain mind.
He cries for food in a land ploughed by famine.
He cries for freedom behind a barred door.
He cries for a judge who will come and examine
the reasons for sin and the causes of war.
He cries for the rich, who on hearing him crying
lean over and say There now, give us a smile!
He cries for the camps full of refugees dying—
his tears are the Congo, the Danube, the Nile.
He cries for all pharisees, each of them giving
the reasons why sadly they have to refuse.
He cries out for Lazarus, both dead and living.
He cries for two thousand years of excuse
and our patience is thin as a sliver of glass
as we fear this child’s crying will never die down.
It slithers through time as a snake slips through grass:
he would cry us an ocean in which we would drown
except it subsides. The baby is quiet.
The stillness returns to the Judaean night.
Whatever is coming he will not defy it
for he came after all to put everything right.
He cries for the strength that he needs to prepare him
to learn obedience in thirty long years.
Good Friday will come. Death will not spare him:
the world will at last be baptised with his tears
and his crying at night is his effort to waken
the sleeping and dead whom he came to live through.
He cries to the God who must leave him forsaken.
He cries out to me. He cries out to you.
Written for the carol service at St John’s, West Ealing in 1996. For a carol service for Iraq in 2013 the last line of verse 7 was changed to "his tears are the Tigris, Euphrates and Nile".