In the Bleak midwinter
‘Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed.’ Revelation 5:5
My favourite carol is In the Bleak Midwinter. It reminds me of winters growing up on the farm, lambing sheep in the depth of cold nights, with blankets of snow around. Don’t be fooled into thinking this was an idyllic, quaint or an easy experience – it really wasn’t! I think that’s why we actually miss the meaning of this carol. Because the carol describes the new-born king Jesus being born:
In the bleak midwinter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter,
Winter is symbolic, this is poetry after all, the earth grows cold, dark and hard. No wonder C S Lewis used winter to describe evil in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, saying the spell of the White Witch was to make it ‘always winter, never Christmas …’
Christina Rossetti the writer of the carol was speaking about the world Jesus was born into, as a cold, dark, harsh world. The remnant of Israel had been waiting hundreds of years for God to come and rescue them, yet the land was overrun with Roman invaders. God’s people were running out of hope – perpetual ‘winter’ had set in.
And yet, it was just then at that moment of despair, in the bleakest of moments, while God’s people mourned and cried out for deliverance, Christmas arrived and Jesus was born. Born into a world in the grip of bleakness when all looks hopeless, a world dying because of sin, frozen over with despair and fear.
In these difficult days when the earth grows cold, dark and hard, when there seems to be no end in sight, we too must remember how God sent us a child as light in the darkness. It is so easy for the cold to make its way into our hearts. When I was young I remember my father saying that the cold seeps in from the ground up, if you keep your feet warm the rest of you will be fine. He was right! People’s hearts grow cold as the world seeps in up through the perpetual winter.
The good news of Christmas is that God sent his son into the world to break that ice. As we find ourselves today in a world that is caught in the grip of a winter pandemic, more than ever we need to ‘fix your thoughts on Jesus’ (Hebrews 3:1). For God has sent his son to thaw our hearts and lives and one day he will come back again, to break the grip of winter forever.
As we wait for that final day, how should we respond, what shall we give? Christina Rossetti finished her carol by answering the very question for herself:
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.
And when we give our hearts to Jesus we begin to thaw, we are no longer fearful, no longer cold with despair and hard because of sin, and so we move out into his world as a witness that the bleak winter of 2020 will not last forever – for as in Narnia the Lion is on the move, ‘do not weep … he has triumphed’!
May I wish you all a very Happy Christmas, Eddie