Advent Sunday

Behold, the Bridegroom cometh: go ye out
With lighted lamps and garlands round about
To meet Him in a rapture with a shout.

It may be at the midnight, black as pitch,
Earth shall cast up her poor, cast up her rich.

It may be at the crowing of the cock
Earth shall upheave her depth, uproot her rock.

For lo, the Bridegroom fetcheth home the Bride:
His Hands are Hands she knows, she knows His Side.

Like pure Rebekah at the appointed place,
Veiled, she unveils her face to meet His Face.

Like great Queen Esther in her triumphing,
She triumphs in the Presence of her King.

His Eyes are as a Dove’s, and she’s Dove-eyed;
He knows His lovely mirror, sister, Bride.

He speaks with Dove-voice of exceeding love,
And she with love-voice of an answering Dove.

Behold, the Bridegroom cometh: go we out
With lamps ablaze and garlands round about
To meet Him in a rapture with a shout.

—Christina Rossetti


Some of you are wondering why I am suddenly posting all this poetry on my blog. There are two reasons: first, I like the poems I share. I think they are beautiful, and I want to share that beauty with you.

Second, poetry at its best is language distilled, which means it requires us to slow down and pay attention. We miss the whole poem if we try to skim it. We miss most of the poem if we only read it once. And that is one of my primary goals when I write: to get you, dear readers, to slow down, to sip, and savor.

The pace of contemporary life exhausts me. The sheer amount of information that gets blasted at me in a single day is enough to send me to bed with a headache. I have to fight daily to slow myself down, to hear myself think, to hear God speak to my heart. I’m pretty sure I am not alone in this desire for sanity and silence.

The poems I’ve posted these last weeks are ones that help me slow down. The beauty of their language grabs my attention, quiets my heart, stills my mind. Sometimes I have to read them three or four times before the stillness sets in, but if I stay with the words, if I attend to them, slowly, their beauty settles me down, settles down into me, and I can hear and think and breathe again.

And I share them in the hope that the same will be true for you.

This poem by Christina Rossetti is new to me. It’s the opening poem in Malcolm Guite’s new anthology for Advent and Christmas, Waiting on the Word (which I highly recommend you get your hands on. Yesterday.). I’ve read “Advent Sunday” half a dozen times in the past few days, in addition to typing it here, and each time I uncover a biblical image or allusion that I hadn’t noticed before. This is language distilled. It can’t be rushed through; its meaning unfolds slowly, with time and attention. In that way, poetry (and the best writing generally) is like life. When we rush and skim, we miss most of its meaning and beauty.

This is Advent. A month of waiting, waiting for the baby in the manger, waiting for redemption and release and all things new. Let’s not rush the waiting. Let’s sit with it awhile and plumb its depths—and let it plumb ours—and see what comes to us. Or Who.

The Wise and Foolish Virgins by Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale