Christmas: ‘And is it true?’
Writing of London in the days before Christmas,
John Betjeman’s poem Christmas captures
the rush and fuss that precedes the celebration.
But then he asks the core question: Is it true?
Is it true?
In this Year of Faith that question goes to the heart of our believing.
Is it true that God has come so close to us?
Is it true that he now shares our humanity so we can share his divinity?
Is it true that foolish love
has led God to such astonishing means to reach us?
Is it true?
The Irish Franciscans wish you light and joy unbounded
as you ponder that question during these days of grace!
The bells of waiting Advent ring,
The Tortoise stove is lit again
And lamp-oil light across the night
Has caught the streaks of winter rain
In many a stained-glass window sheen
From Crimson Lake to Hookers Green…
And London shops on Christmas Eve
Are strung with silver bells and flowers
As hurrying clerks the City leave
To pigeon-haunted classic towers,
And marbled clouds go scudding by
The many-steepled London sky.
And girls in slacks remember Dad,
And oafish louts remember Mum,
And sleepless children’s hearts are glad.
And Christmas-morning bells say ‘Come!’
Even to shining ones who dwell
Safe in the Dorchester Hotel.
And is it true,
This most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained-glass window’s hue,
A Baby in an ox’s stall ?
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a Child on earth for me ?
And is it true ? For if it is,
No loving fingers tying strings
Around those tissued fripperies,
The sweet and silly Christmas things,
Bath salts and inexpensive scent
And hideous tie so kindly meant,
No love that in a family dwells,
No carolling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with this single Truth compare –
That God was man in Palestine
And lives today in Bread and Wine.
John Betjeman (1906-84)