In the bleak mid-winter, 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 mid-winter, 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 mid-winter 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 thronged 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.
These words constitute the text of one of my favorite Christmas carols whose title comes from the first line, “In the Bleak Midwinter.” The words of the carol, set to music in the early 1900’s, are actually taken from a poem by the English poet Christina Rossetti who is believed to have written the poem in the early 1870’s.
This carol does not have the normal joyous tone of most Christmas carols. Instead, a somber and melancholy mood, at least in the beginning, is conveyed through the harsh physical setting—water as “hard as iron” and “like a stone,” a frosty and moaning wind,” and so much snow that it is piled “snow on snow, snow on snow.” The scene is stark and bleak, at least outside.
The harsh physical conditions stand in sharp contrast to the atmosphere in the stable where Jesus’ mother, the animals, and the host of angels bow in worship to God’s son. All seemed overpowered by the holiness and magnitude of the place and the hour and again by contrast, oblivious to the outside environment.
At the end of the poem in the final stanza, Rossetti turns inward as she thinks of herself as a worshipper of the Holy Child like the others in the poem. Her thoughts compel her to ask the haunting question, “What can I give him?” Yes, that is indeed the question, isn’t it, on this Christmas Eve? As we observe this holiest of nights, what can we give the Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ? Like Rossetti replies, there really is only one answer to that question—a heart full of love and adoration for the one who died for us all.
Christmas love and blessings to everyone!
Prayer: Lord, here is my heart. Make it thine.