Christmas Day. The Family Sitting

By John Meade Falkner

In the days of Caesar Augustus
There went forth this decree:
Si quis rectus et justus
Liveth in Galilee
Let him go up to Jerusalem
And pay his scot to me.

There are passed one after the other
Christmases fifty-three
Since I sat here with my mother
And heard the great decree:
How they went up to Jerusalem
Out of Galilee.

They have passed one after the other;
Father and mother died,
Brother and sister and brother
Taken and sanctified.
I am left sitting,
With none to sit beside.

On the fly-leaves of these old prayer-books
The childish writings fade,
Which show that once they were their books
In the days when prayer was made
For other kings and princesses,
William and Adelaide.

The pillars are twisted with holly,
And the font is wreathed with yew.
Christ forgive me for folly,
Youth’s lapses–not a few,
For the hardness of my middle life,
For age’s fretful view.

Cotton-wool letters on scarlet,
All the ancient lore,
Tell how the cheiftains starlit
To Bethlehem came to adore;
To hail him King in the manger,
Wonderful, Counsellor.

The bells ring out in the steeple
The gladness of erstwhile,
And the children of other people
Are walking up the aisle;
They brush my elbow in passing,
Some turn to give me a smile.

Is the almond-blossom bitter?
Is the grasshopper heavy to bear?
Christ make me happier, fitter
To go to my own over there:
Jerusalem the Golden,
What bliss beyond compare!

My Lord, where I have offended
Do Thou forgive it me.
That so when, all being ended,
I hear Thy last decree,
I may go up to Jerusalem
Out of Galilee.


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