A n n u n c i a t i o n 1 9 8 7
down on Bethlehem
who was there?
Who was there to see it?
Many were there---worshiping, listening---
whose witness is not canon.
They cannot tell us
what they saw.
even down these years
certain voices reach our ears:
Mary's, Joseph's, shepherds', kings'.
They all tell us what brought them to the Child.
Their witness is of star,
(Can I not believe these voices?)
I would like to hear the silent witnesses,
those whom the chroniclers forgot:
the innkeeper's wife? a stable hand, perhaps?
a tavern sweep?
or attendants to the kings?
(for I doubt kings ever rode alone)
Surely, these were there.
Who else was near?
What beasts were witnesses?
Was it a donkey that carried Mary out of Nazareth?
The donkey then
could have been kneeling
near the manger,
(Alas, and this not Balaam's ass
to give angel's utterance
having witnessed all.)
What other beast's breath
was lent to warm the stable air?
A cow's? A lamb's?
As they irreverently fed
did they know
that they shared their food for a bed
with God's Son?
How many horses,
camels stabled under star
while their riders slept, unaware of angels, in the foolish inns?
How many beasts, silently noticing, sat,
or wandered in and out of stalls
on that night?
. . . two chickens brooding near the back
one mouse briefly
five birds all of a family
and far too many flies?
What these know can not be told.
But they were there.
They were there.
harbored a sign:
the sky held an angel,
high and still,
silently lending a bright annunciation
to the night.
The kings proclaimed this light---
this new star from prophecy foreknown---
proclaimed it to be their guide.
It brought them from afar.
Could a star lead us to a stable in Bethlehem?
Would we follow a star that lighted a stable in Bethlehem?
Would I were in Bethlehem. . .
but sadly, I am---I was not there.
Neither were Joseph, Mary, and a child
when Herod stretched
his steelèd arm 'cross David's town
to slay the young Judeans.
Why did Herod fear a child in Bethlehem?
The shepherds said an angel told them of the birth;
but why did an angel seek shepherds?
I fear I cannot ask the angel,
but here is what the shepherd said---
I speak now with a shepherd---
Sir, you were at Bethlehem, the stable there?
You saw the child?
What else did you see?
--I was in the field,
my sheep were near.
My brothers were asleep around a fire---
it was a cold night and my turn to keep the watch.
Suddenly the sky was filled with light,
and the light was angels,
and one spoke to me, as my brothers came awake,
Do not be afraid.
I bring you news of great joy, a joy to be shared by everyone!
Today in the city of David, a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord.
And here is a sign for you:
you will find the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.
Go to Him!
We went as the angel bade
and found the baby in a manger,
wrapped in strips of cloth
just as the angel had foretold.
And we remembered what the angel had said.
The angel said: He is Christ the Lord!
His mother's name was Mary, and I told her how we'd known to come;
and, quietly, she said she knew of angels;
and also Joseph, her betrothèd, spoke of angels--
angel dreams. . .
That is what the shepherd said.
what do we know these days of angels?
But I believe the shepherd.
The Son of the Most High
slept in a bright, lighted manger
As a sign for the shepherd.
as a sign that you and I could seem to see.
A sign for me?
Why else would
on a stable
in the city of David?
by Leon Archibald, December 1987
A n n u n c i a t i o n 1 9 8 7
drawing by leon archibald, digital rendering by stefanie clark eskander
I wrote this to use in a Christmas card in -- you guessed it -- 1987. I had been wondering about all the voices, seen and unseen, real and imaginary, that could have told us their stories about the birth of Christ.
I hope you have a wonderful holiday season!
Leon Archibald, December 2013