We began our meeting the other night with the leader asking each of us to share our favorite Christmas carol and to say something about it. I paged quickly through the hymnal in my mind and stopped at “In the Bleak Midwinter.”
My favorite recording of “In the Bleak Midwinter” is this by Corrinne May.
The images of the first stanzas of the hymn are painted from poet Christina Rossetti’s memories of winters in Nineteenth Century England; those in the last verses from the First Century and a story told from a little town in the Judean hill country called Bethlehem and from the fields nearby where shepherds were keeping watch over their sheep by night.
Of the bleak midwinter Rossetti writes,
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone.
The words depict not just a scene of gray December, but of a world turned cold and hard – Caesar’s empire, Victorian England, this second decade of the Third Millennium.
Like a sharp knife cutting through the thick plastic packaging of some toy or gadget bought as a Christmas gift, Rossetti’s words cut through the thick glittery plastic and meaningless Muzak of a cultural Christmas as artificial as the trees and garlands that deck the malls.
Our world is in desperate need of a savior and the bright colored lights and tinselly foil do not hide, but call attention to our desperation.
Bethlehem’s story is the story of God breaking into our bleak midwinter world:
Our God, heaven cannot hold him
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When he comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty
The hymn goes on to speak of angels and archangels who throng the air; more than bright light, the glory of the Lord filling the dark night of our times.
Her own heart touched by the Good News of great joy, Rossetti asks the question all of us who know that joy must ask:
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.
Neither shepherd nor wise man, we give our hearts.
A bit cryptic, nevertheless, I offer my thanks to a cast of LPC people who yesterday left the sheep they were tending and the appointments they had made to give their hearts in service the one whose story unfolds in the bleak midwinter of our world and of our lives. The gospel softens even an earth stood hard as iron.
See you Sunday.