Last Call: A Christmas Dialogue

This year’s Christmas poem is a conversation and a modest attempt at Shakespearean style. The inspiration popped into my head several weeks ago: an imagined meeting of the World, the Flesh and the Devil, who are sharing a pint of “Christmas cheer” at the end of a seemingly successful year of sowing strife and division. The line that came first to mind was from the Flesh: “The spirit is weak, and the flesh is always willing.”—which survives in a modified form.

For whatever reason, I remain taken with the idea of Satan struggling to accept that he has been defeated by an Infant and His Mother. A few sparks from literature and pop culture also came to mind, for example, C.S. Lewis’s “Screwtape Proposes a Toast,” Scrooge’s promise at the end of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol to discuss Bob Cratchit’s situation “over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop,” and the exchange between Captain Jack Sparrow and Gibbs in the Tortuga tavern in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.

It may be easier to print and read in this format. Apologies to the Bard—I hope a few of you enjoy it. Merry Christmas!

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Scene: A dark corner of a noisy tavern, lit by melted candle stubs and a large, crackling fire. A table with three chairs and three tankards. Two figures are seated: the World, slight, anxious and in constant motion; the Flesh, immense and languid, with eyes that rove around the room. A third figure, the Devil, well-dressed with a commanding bearing, approaches, and the first two rise.

Devil

Well met, my friends! Pray, sit. How goes the fight?

World

Aright, my lord—still tilted and well spun:

Like every year they give themselves to gold

and live beyond their means. They send their wealth

into the world to win the blesséd day,

and, spending freely, are themselves well spent.

They stretch for more and more, and come up short…

Devil (interrupting)

A grand report—not more so for its length.

These men are naught if not predictable.

And you, my constant friend: Expanding still?

Flesh

Where will is weak, the flesh is always game.

Devil (raising his mug)

The same. A toast, then—what? The barrel’s bare!

World

I swear, m’Lord, it wasn’t’ ere you sat!

Flesh (slyly)

I’ll vouch for that. Barkeep! A flagon more!

Devil

The score, it seems, is settled well above:

Like dogs are quick to please, so, too, are men—

not bright, but able apes, to imitate

the World in pointing fingers, casting blame.

And gasping, grasping for the Flesh’s gain,

the meatlings gamely carve and eat themselves.

World

The shelves are bare, and still they seek for more!

Their store of self-indulgence well supplied…

Flesh

Their pride disguises lust as just reward;

When pleasure turns to pain, still they persist.

World

Solicitous of foe, feckless with friend…

Flesh

Their end, predictable and pitiless!

Devil

They disregard eternity is theirs.

Humanity knows not the gift of God,

and rushes, loud and laughing, to its doom,

along the path so many men have trod.

In guise of generosity they gain

the world, its weight and all its empty show.

In colored paper, wrap their petty pride,

and bind themselves to mammon with a bow.

Their appetites they kindle all the more

with feasting, as with drink they loose their guard.

Their lust prefers a shovel to a rope;

they sink an inch, then deeper dig a yard.

My servants, if you’ve done your worst quite well,

Such hapless souls ought soon be safe in Hell.

(The fire is brighter and crackling louder now.)

World

Well said!

Flesh (aside) 

Not more so for his eloquence.

Devil (overhearing)

Since you can’t cork your mouth, uncork your purse,

and buy a round. My mug is dry.

Flesh

Not I!

I’m spent as always; he’s the moneyed one.

Let him buy—gods, it’s hot in here! A beer!

World

Here, barkeep, three—a barrel, better yet!

The Master’s here, and all the news is good.

Devil

Would that were true. Alas, I’ve just returned

from visiting the world that you acclaim

as lost to avarice and gluttony.

Amid the glitz and glitter there pervades

the image of joy-filled family

a virgin mother, father, and a son.

A glimpse of godly purity and peace

that lures their hearts away from base desires

to Him whose love they welcome at His word.

World

I’ve heard this story told a thousand ways,

m’lord, among the children of the earth.

They speak as though their god were one of them

and condescending to a virgin birth

would save them from the sinner’s dreadful debt…

Flesh  

And yet succumb to sin they do, and die—

can our great enemy truly prevail?

It seems to me a ploy, a lark, a lie

to keep these stupid humans in their place.

Devil

Their race, indeed, is broken and bereft

of grace, but how else is it they ascend

to Him instead of falling here below?

Should not our ears be ringing with their cries?

If things above are awful as they seem,

why are we starved for souls? Your efforts there

are not so fully fruitful as you think!

Flesh

A drink! That blasted barkeep left us dry!

World

A lie—this love of god—it makes no sense

to seek the good of others selflessly!

What profit, gaining souls of all the world

at price of death and loss of dignity?

Devil

But He refrains to count the cost, or worse,

regards the loss as truly worth the gain.

 Flesh

The strain of striving to make sense of Him

whose temp’rance favors mercy to the lash—

it sets ablaze my brain, my blood aboil.

a drop would help, at least, to cool my tongue.

That barman now avoids my thirsty eye!

World

You’ve drunk him dry!

Flesh

Who, I? Do you forget

that I am broke? You are the greedy one!

World

Ungrateful glutton!

Flesh

Bloodless scrooge!

Devil

ENOUGH!

(The two gaze in fear at their master, and the fire roars.)

Devil

Our failure is complete: Mankind persists

in sin that should exclude it from its home,

but God, in baseless hope of faithfulness,

debases His divinity and comes

to earth, a wriggling, howling, helpless babe

born in a cave to bear the weight of sin.

That once He came to earth would be enough,

but He has promised to return again.

He thus has divinized their wretched lives,

Which otherwise would kindle in our hands,

and they recall this folly year by year,

repenting, and curtailing all our plans.

This is a cheerless, beerless place, I think,

and hot is Hell with naught but dust to drink.


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