The Jesus Poems: Incarnation

I'm going to try and see if I might write a few poems about the life of Jesus. These attempts will show up under the heading "The Jesus Poems." So, to start, a poem entitled "Incarnation":

In the beginning
was a bastard.
Or so rumored.
Voices carried
on a Nazarene breeze,
from shadowy doorways,
down dusty streets.
The gift
of a small town.
And an ancestry
of prostitutes
and murderers.
All this--
the emptying
the pouring out
the lowering
the descent--
kenosis and condescension.
The Incarnation.
The Word made flesh
in that boy walking by
under whispers.

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11 thoughts on “The Jesus Poems: Incarnation”

  1. I like John 1, especially vv. 14-18, which I was just reading yesterday in connection with Exodus 33:18-34:9...  When Moses asked, "Show me Your glory," God revealed to Moses' understanding His essential nature:  compassionate, gracious, merciful, slow to anger, abundant in loving-kindness and truth.  Then, Jesus embodied that divine nature so that any confusion about who God is could be finally cleared up.  The Word (Christ) became flesh, pitched his "tent" among us, and we saw the glory of God which is grace (chesed) and truth (emet).

    If Jesus came to town as he did 2000 years ago (as an illegitimate son of poor folk), would I reject him in disgust, pity him from a safe distance, or open my heart and embrace him with radical hospitality?  I wonder what I would do?

  2. You captured a lot of emotion here, especially read-between-the-lines emotions of how the Bible describes Jesus' birth and childhood. I can't imagine being a child and hearing so many whispers about me. I, personally, was born out of wedlock, but in a time in which that "bastard" label didn't really mean much anymore.

  3. Wish I had been able to publish this in the January edition of New Wineskins!

  4. Reading Notes
    (For each of the Jesus Poems I'm going to post in the comments some reading

    The poem imagines that the circumstances of Jesus's birth had
    "leaked" into small town gossip (the gift / of a small
    ). To be sure, no one knows if that happened, but the genealogy
    of Matthew 1 has a lot of sexual scandals in it: Rahab, Tamar, Bathsheba. Let
    alone the other scandals among Jesus's ancestors (an ancestry / of
    prostitutes / and murders
    ). Is Matthew, in drawing attention to the
    sex scandals, trying to highlight the scandal of Jesus's birth or is he trying
    to normalize it? Either way, there is a whiff of illicitness about the birth

    Which causes me to think about why God would enter the world "under
    whispers." Why court scandal and gossip? When we think of the Incarnation
    we often think about Jesus becoming a baby. But what might it mean that God
    desired to become an illegitimate baby (In the
    beginning  / was a bastard
    )? We
    know the Incarnation was a lowering, but that lowering may be much lower than
    we typically think. A lowering down into where things get a little shady,
    morally speaking. God standing in solidarity from the beginning with the
    sinners rather than the righteous.

    Which makes Jesus's birth consistent with his life and death. He spent time
    with sinners, tax collectors and prostitutes. He died as a criminal. Jesus's
    whole life looked immoral. So why not the circumstances of his birth?

    So the poem tries to connect the language of Incarnation to moral scandal. The
    first two lines are meant to jar by the juxtaposition: In the
    beginning / was a bastard
    . Obviously, I'm playing with John 1.1 here.
    Echoes of Philippians 2 (kenosis) and Matthew 1 (ancestry) are also used. And a
    word about the line kenosis and condescension. Kenosis is
    the Greek work used in Philippians 2, often translated as "emptying":
    In taking on human form Jesus emptied himself. Condescension refers to what
    theologians call "divine condescension." Being
    "condescending" is often seen as bad thing so this word might
    confuse, but the original meaning of condescension is the voluntary lowering of
    a high status person to meet on an equal plane with a lower status person.
    Obviously, that is what the Incarnation is all about, God lowering (condescending)
    to meet us on equal footing. Thus the lines in the poem All this-- /
    the emptying / the pouring out / the lowering / the descent-- / kenosis and

  5. Hello Dr. Beck,

    My eyes, not being too good (even with glasses)  accidentally read the line 
    "The Word made fresh"  as "The Word made FRESH". 

    Gary Y.

  6. ...under whispers.
    He smiles as his Time draws nigh.
    He comforted many..or do they comfort themselves?
    The smile fades as he leaves his followers for the grave.
    Dust he returns , no more.
    Flurry of miracles and then silence........
    Why God ? god is why.

  7. Great poetry, Richard.  The incarnation of God is so amazing!  The humbling is the glory and the weakness is the life-transforming power!

  8. So there's no one else I can think of who would write this particular poem.
    Have you heard the apocryphal tale about the child Jesus making clay birds--and making them live? I wish I could recall how it goes... anyway, the "boy" in the end emphasizes the childhood of Christ, something that's often omitted in our thoughts about him. There's a gap between the infant and the teacher, with a brief mention of the synagogue episode. But he was a boy, and folks surely thought he was weird. What about those whispers, eh?

  9.  I wonder if you have seen the BBC version of The Nativity from a couple of years ago. It was a very 'earthy' adaptation, with Mary ostracized for her pregnancy, and so criticized by some.

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