Poem by Donal Mahoney: “Christmastime in America”

Herod…gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:

“A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.”

(Matthew 2:16-18)

Surrounded by sentimental images of babies in mangers, we forget that the Bible sets the Christmas story as a small but brilliant point of light against the darkness of the world. A world where the murder of children still threatens the peace of our homes, schools, and hearts.

Do we dare take time to grieve? I’ve been frustrated and saddened by the rush to politicize the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the instantaneous explosion of Internet debate about guns and mental illness, the finger-pointing and Facebook-unfriending of those who disagree with our preferred solution. Anger gives us an illusion of control. But God in Jesus didn’t come as a gun-toting (or spear-carrying) security guard. This poem by Donal Mahoney reminded me of the lines from “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear”: “And man, at war with man, hears not the love song which they bring; O hush the noise, ye men of strife, and hear the angels sing.”

Christmastime in America
by Donal Mahoney

You see the oddest things
at Christmastime in America.
The bigger the city,
the stranger the sights.
I was driving downtown
to buy gifts for the family
and enjoying bouquets
of beautiful people
bundled in big coats
and colorful scarves
clustered on corners,
shopping in good cheer
amid petals of snow
dancing in the sun.

One of them, however,
a beautiful young lady,
had stopped to take issue
with an old woman in a shawl
picketing Planned Parenthood.
The old woman was riding
on a motor scooter
designed for the elderly.
She held a sign bigger
than she was and kept
motoring back and forth
as resolute as my aunt
who had been renowned
for protesting any injustice.
Saving seals in the Antarctic
had been very important to her.

On this day, however,
the beautiful young lady
who had taken issue
with the old woman
was livid and screaming.
She marched behind
the motor scooter and
yelled at the old woman
who appeared oblivious
to all the commotion.
Maybe she was deaf,
I thought, like my aunt.
That can be an advantage
at a time like this.

The letters on the sign were huge
but I couldn’t read them
so I drove around the block
and found a spot at the curb.

It turned out the sign said,
“What might have happened
if Mary of Nazareth
had been pro-choice?”
Now I understood
why the young lady
was ranting and raving
and why the old woman
kept motoring to and fro.
At Christmastime in America
people get excited,
more so than usual.

When I got home
I hid my packages
and told my wife at supper
what I had seen.
I also told her that if Mary
had chosen otherwise,
I wouldn’t have had
to go shopping today.
That’s obvious, she said.

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