In the Bleak Midwinter
words by Christina Rossetti
1 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.
2 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.
3 Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
but his mother only, in her maiden bliss,
worshiped the beloved with a kiss.
4 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.
United Methodist Hymnal, 1989
I love this Christmas Hymn, though it creates a picture that is likely very false. Historically, we have no reason to believe that Jesus’ birth occurred on the 25th of December, or even in the winter at all. And even if it was December, it is very unlikely that the Middle-Eastern countryside was experiencing frosty moaning winds or icy waters on the night of Christ’s birth.
In addition to Mary, the Bible tells us of others who came to worship that night– the shepherds in the nearby hills. The wise men likely came days, weeks, or even months later to bring their gifts. And Joseph would certainly have been there, as well.
The song is still lovely, and the last verse is the key. Christ poured out all that He was; taking on the form of a helpless baby, He lived among those who rejected and mocked Him. He served those whom He had created, healing their wounds, forgiving their sins, providing for their eternal redemption. He died, betrayed and despised by His own chosen people, and dismissed by the rulers and authorities of the day. He never owned a home, built monuments, carved his name in stone, or wrote books to preserve his legacy. He had no dynasty or even children to carry on his name; at the time of his death, all his friends and followers had abandoned him– all but one disciple and his mother. Yet his birth (the actual date of which has been obscured by history) is synonymous with generous gifting, rejoicing, singing, worship, and renewed hope. So what could any of us possibly give that could even begin to match what His life, death, and resurrection gave us?
He asks for only one thing– everything we have: all the failures, mistakes, good intentions, bad choices, selfish desires, and hurts of the past–and in return, He gives us everything beyond our wildest imaginations: eternity with Him; all the riches of His Glory; all His holiness and majesty imputed to us; peace with Him; rest and restoration in Him; and His Spirit to guide and sustain us!
The bleakness of midwinter may not have been the physical setting of Christ’s birth, but it represents the spiritual setting of our lives without Him. In that sense, Christ comes in the bleak midwinter of our rebellion, our despair, and our isolation, and offers to give us everlasting light, hope, peace, and joy!
That’s worth celebrating every day throughout eternity!