In the Bleak Midwinter: A Reflection on Rossetti’s “A Christmas Carol”

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Image by Yvan Marn via stock.xchng

“A Christmas Carol” by Christina Rossetti

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,

A breastful of milk

  And a mangerful of hay,

Enough for Him whom angels

  Fall down before,

The ox and ass and camel

  Which adore.

 

Angels and archangels

  May have gathered there,

Cherubim and seraphim

  Throng’d the air,

But only His mother

  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.

In the Bleak Midwinter: A Reflection on Rossetti’s “A Christmas Carol”

by Rebekah Choat

I was born in Brownsville, Texas, which is as far south in Texas as you can go and still be in this country.  I only lived three years of my childhood in a place where it snowed on a regular basis, and never anywhere that there was a hard, enduring freeze.

But in my personal inner landscape, shaped by decades of depression, I know well the feeling of being bound up iron-stiff, impossibly heavy, encased in rivers of tears frozen solid, blanketed by layer upon layer of numbness.  And while a balmy breeze may be blowing outside my kitchen window, the ice inside often starts to build up during the holiday season.

I know that, just beyond the edge of this cold barren plain I can’t seem to get across, there are blazing fires and music and cheer, and that there is a genuine undercurrent of good will and joy to be found somewhere beneath all the tinsel.  Deep in my being I believe, though I can’t always feel it, that a wonder is being worked, that the glory of God is coming near to man.

Beyond reckoning, this mystery is enacted not under the glaring lights with fanfare and confetti, but in the shadows just outside the circle of the merry-makers’ awareness.  Inconceivably, the splendor of heaven is swaddled in a crude outbuilding I can shelter in, here in this forsaken place.

Who could imagine that the eternal God would set aside the worship of the highest orders of angels, to come into time unrecognized by all but a few of the lowliest men?  Who would believe that the almighty Creator of the universe would take on the form of an infant, dependent on a peasant girl’s untried body for His very sustenance?

Inadequacy is often one of my strongest emotions during the holidays.  I think, “If I felt better, I’d do Christmas right.  If I had more energy, I’d send out a couple hundred cards, and bake an extra dozen batches of cookies to give away, and dress Baby Girl up all festive and take her caroling to the old folks’ home.”  Just the thought is overwhelming.

Blessedly, I’ve finally begun to learn that what I would do if I were someone else – a social butterfly, or a philanthropist, or a shepherd – is irrelevant.  Though it defies reason, this tired, battered heart that is all I have to offer is acceptable, is even treasured, by the most high King.

********

There’s a lovely arrangement of this poem/hymn on Steve Bell’s recently-released “Keening for the Dawn.”  The whole album is a thoughtful reflection on waiting for the advent of the One who comes to us where we are in humble, unexpected ways.  I highly recommend it.  http://keening.stevebell.com/

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