by Christina Rossetti
My heart is like a singing bird
Whose nest is in a water’d shoot;
My heart is like an apple-tree
Whose boughs are bent with thickset fruit;
My heart is like a rainbow shell
That paddles on the halcyon sea;
My heart is gladder than all these
Because my love is come to me.
Raise me a dais of silk and down;
Hang it with vair and purple dyes;
Carve it in doves and pomegranates,
And peacocks with a hundred eyes;
Work it in gold and silver grapes,
In leaves and silver fleur-de-lys;
Because the birthday of my life
Is come, my love is come to me.
I love to celebrate birthdays – my own and those of my family and friends. And I hate to forget a birthday. I like nothing more than to choose a lovely present and card for someone and I can easily spend hours doing so. I love to plan a celebration and planning a birthday energises me and makes my heart sing!
My own birthday is 26th December, Boxing Day. As a child, I thought this was rather special, because it was the day after Jesus’s birthday, and I would tell everybody this, if they asked when my birthday was. Christmas time was, and still is, doubly special to me because of the double celebrations.
In my childhood though, there was a downside to this, as I’m sure that others born around the same date may recognise. If I’m honest, I felt a bit let down on the present, card and party front! I often got a joint present from family, being told, “It’s a big present for both your birthday and Christmas”.
Well, this doesn’t really wash when you’re a child, because when it comes to presents, volume is everything. I don’t want you to feel sad for me, because I certainly wasn’t neglected, but I can’t ever remember having a party until I was in my late teens.
My birthday ‘parties’ were a family tea at home with grandparents, sometimes having candles on the Christmas cake. Well, who would want a lovely pink and white creation, like my cousin Jacqueline had? How I longed for friends, jelly, ‘proper’ cake, balloons and pass the parcel. This longing intensified as my younger brother, born in August, started school and began to have just the sort of parties I dreamed about.
Thankfully, as an adult, my family have made up for all that, and my birthday has developed traditions that have changed over the years, but it is always celebrated. My very best birthday, ‘the birthday of my life’ was when I was 50 and my husband Peter organised a very special trip for us, to go to the Monaco Grand Prix. Absolute birthday bliss, although I had to wait until May the next year for it!
This year, 2020, was to be full of family celebrations, for my Mum’s 90th this month and in October, for my husband’s ‘big’ birthday. Sadly, my Mum died in February and our plans for this and Peter’s birthday have been cancelled. So, different plans will be made, in both cases.
I hope you will see by now why I have chosen the poem, A Birthday by Christina Rossetti. I love this absolute overflowing of exuberance and joy for the preparation of a birthday celebration for her loved one, or maybe the tingling anticipation of spending her own birthday with someone she loves, on their return.
It speaks to my heart. There are many themes we could unpick in this poem, but as always with Christina Rossetti, religious imagery and symbolism are never far from the surface and A Birthday is no exception. New life in Christ and echoes of Easter and the resurrection – the trees in blossom, the birds singing and shoots springing into life – are woven through.
For me, though, the central theme of A Birthday is that ultimate celebration for Christians, of the Second Coming and the joy of the Saviour’s return. In the book of Revelation, John describes his vision:
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling-place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’
“He who is seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ He said to me, ‘It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.’ ”
Revelation 21.1-6 (New International Version)
What joy there will be indeed and what a celebration, when our Saviour returns, and the new kingdom arrives! And we wait in sure and certain hope of this, for as we read in 2 Peter 3.13:
God has promised us a new heaven and a new earth, where justice will rule. We are really looking forward to that! (Contemporary English Version)
Perhaps we need to remind ourselves of the words we say every day in the prayer Jesus taught us, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” When I reflect on these words, what amazes and excites me most is that we were put on this earth, at such a time as this, to be God’s people; to bring about his kingdom here!
He has a plan for each one of us to carry out. The way we choose to live and walk each day with Jesus, demonstrating God’s love, peace, joy, truth and justice, impacts on all those around us – our families and friends, our neighbours and those we meet in the chance encounters of everyday life.
God is with us; the power of his Spirit living in us gives us the ability to touch the lives of others. The Spirit enables us to show them that his kingdom is right here, right now and it is for them, as well as for us. I pray that the Holy Spirit will prepare the way for each one of us today and give us the courage to share the good news of Jesus with the people we meet, bringing streams of living water to those who are thirsty for him.
My Mum’s heavenly 90th birthday is on 1st August. We are taking her ashes to her favourite place in West Wales and scattering them in a place she loved. I will read the poem and pray that she will rest in peace and rise in glory – to the biggest party ever!
Vice Chair of Wigan Deanery Trust