“I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.”
The poem by Christina Rossetti, In the Bleak Midwinter, was first published in Scribner’s Magazine in January of 1872. It was put to music in 1906 and choir directors declared it as one of their favourite Christmas Carols of all time. The words of the poem read:
In the Bleak Midwinter
In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.
Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.
Enough for Him, whom cherubim, worship night and day,
Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.
Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.
What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.
Christina Rossetti (1872)
Three things stand out about this poem turned hymn to me. First, is that part of the poem is wrong. Christmas is celebrated in places where snow is a big part of our celebrations. But the first Christmas was probably spent in warmer temperatures. There are several things that have become parts of the Christmas story that aren’t true. Jesus wasn’t born on December 25th. It was a day selected to celebrate it which happened to coincide with pre-existing Roman holidays. The Bible doesn’t say that the Angels that appeared to the shepherds at the first Christmas sang (I remember being shocked at this, read it in Luke 2). The wisemen probably never came to the stable, they most likely came about 2 years after Jesus was born and we don’t
even know if there was three of them. (we do know they brought three gifts). I hope I haven’t burst your bubble. Back to the poem. It can snow in Bethlehem, but it is not very common and would probably have been a light dusting. Not the Northern Ontario snow, like the author seems to be describing, “Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow, in the bleak midwinter”. It sounds like the winter of 2018 being described. Although the poem is incorrect, it does give meaning to those of us, who live in areas that have winter. Jesus came to a cold and harsh world. A place made bleak by a lack of hope and peace. Into this reality the Saviour comes.
The second point that stands out to me, is that the picture the author paints of Jesus’ advent and birth is poetically stunning. The contrasts between his divine (fully God) and earthly (fully man) nature are wonderfully explored. Heaven cannot contain Him, but He willing places Himself in the form of man (particularly a new born dependent on his mother) and into adverse circumstances. The animals, angels, shepherds, wisemen and Mary all worship Him in their own way.
Which leads to the third point. Christina Rossetti concluded that the Christmas story becomes your story. It is not a mere retelling of a piece of history. It is an ongoing reality that needs to be responded to. She states, “What can I give Him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb; If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part; Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.”
In this bleak mid-winter will you revisit the story and enter in to it and respond in the only appropriate way, “Give Jesus your heart.”
May God richly bless you and your family, this Christmas season and through out 2019.
In Christ’s Love,
Pastor John, Jennifer & the Inthof Family