If God performed a mighty act of salvation in sending his Son, then we have to interpret the helpless baby of Bethlehem as the conqueror who showed God’s salvation to all the ends of the earth. Filling out so sharp a paradox is a big challenge for the poetic imagination, but a few have attempted it. Chief among them is Robert Southwell (1561-1595), who crafted the second half of his poem “New Heaven, New War” around this sheer cliff of contradiction:
This little Babe so few days old,
Is come to rifle Satan’s fold;
All hell doth at his presence quake,
Though he himself for cold do shake;
For in this weak, unarmed wise,
The gates of hell he will surprise.
With tears he fights and wins the field,
His naked breast stands for a shield;
His battering shot are babish cries,
His arrows made of weeping eyes,
His martial ensigns cold and need,
And feeble flesh his warrior’s steed.
His camp is pitched in a stall,
His bulwark but a broken wall;
The crib his trench, hay stalks his stakes,
Of shepherds he his muster makes;
And thus as sure his foe to wound,
The Angels’ trumps alarum sound.
My soul with Christ join thou in fight,
Stick to the tents that he hath dight;
Within his crib is surest ward,
This little Babe will be thy guard;
If thou wilt foil thy foes with joy,
Then flit not from the heavenly boy.
(Thanks to Walt Harrah for using this poem in a Christmas concert this year)