St John the Baptist

I was asked to write a poem for the Advent candle lighting this past Sunday at church, with a focus on John the Baptist. I thought of him out in the desert, forging a path for his Messiah, then realized that he himself was probably being forged. We call Advent a time of preparation, not simply for Christmas but more importantly for the return of Christ; rather than the thousand other things we might think need more work, it is in truth ourselves which are being prepared. It’s far from easy and rarely pleasant.

This year and last have been hard Advent/Christmas seasons, so the pain of having to endure one thing after another found its way into the poem as well. Here it is.

Every day I’m hammered into shape
on this anvil wasteland:
sand sticks to my sweaty palm;
I pick out a locust leg from my teeth;
my hand emerges from a honeycomb
covered in stings and welts;
my only clothes are the leather
I peeled from a camel’s carcass.
I spend my days in this forge, waiting
for the next scorching hammer blow.

Today it’s as though the water hisses
when I step into the river.
I bend to my work, sinking a penitent
and drawing him up again,
when my heart starts pounding
as if, before I’ve even turned around,
I can already see the end of my waiting
pushing through the crowd to meet me.

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