reflection by Beth LinnartzPsalms 50 and 33 Isaiah 9: 18-10: 4 2 Peter 2: 10b-16 Matthew 3: 1-12
My favorite Christmas poem tells about God’s wisdom appearing foolish, and his strength appearing weak
(click here to listen: This Little Babe):
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 week 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 looks 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, haystalks 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 *pight.
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 this heavenly boy!
by Robert Southwell
You can hear this poem in Benjamin Britten’s arrangement of This Little Babe in Ceremony of Carols. Written in the 16th century by an English Jesuit, this poem benefits from some modern paraphrase.
This is the baby who has come to fight Satan. Hell is afraid of him, even though he needs swaddling. He comes naked to this battlefield with tears and cries and cold and need, in pitiful human flesh. He starts this fight in a farmyard with shepherds for soldiers. The angel music signals the beginning of the battle.
My soul, join his army! Stay in his humble headquarters. Let this baby guard you! If you would disarm your foes by joy, don’t leave God’s Son, no matter how weak and foolish it all seems. For “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.” (I Cor. 1:27)