Bleak Midwinter

Advent: In the Bleak Midwinter

The wind howls through the stark tree branches colored monochrome by chilled bark and crystalline snow. Icicles drape like vines of diamond from ledges and limbs and logs. The world is blanketed by the hush of a fresh snowfall, the stillness thick enough to taste as it presses against the skin and sets hairs on end. No babble from the frozen brooks, no splashing from the icy lake. The world is silent. The world is waiting.

In the bleak midwinter
Frosty winds 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.

A whisper sifts through the stillness. A hint of another world brushing against ours. One can almost see the beating of mighty wings in the open air. One squints as the sun glances off a snow bank – or is it the gleam of an unearthly glow? Now the wind carries the echo of a voice, inhuman and ethereal: “Holy holy holy! Holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” There is the sense of a limitless multitude of eyes, all of them staring, transfixed, unblinking, at a small hovel – a makeshift barn, it seems – halfway carved into a stony hillside.

Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air,
But his mother only,
In her maiden’s bliss,
Worshipped the Beloved
With a kiss.

On closer inspection, the barn is inhabited. Lethargic animals cluster together against the cold. Occasional grunts or lows echo into the stillness as the beasts shift and stir and shiver. But wait – there is something else. Something strange; beyond belief. A family huddles with the beasts, fending off the cold with chilled straw and a few tattered blankets. Blood soaks the straw near the doorway and freezes to a red frost. What transpired here? What could have befallen this poor, bedraggled couple?

A bundle near the woman’s chest stirs, setting a stray strand of sweat-soaked hair swaying. A newborn lets out a soft, plaintive cry. The woman’s exhausted lips flutter into a smile, then, bending down, she kisses her child on his beautiful face. You gasp. She gave birth in here. In the depths of the cold, in the bleakness of the night. It looks like it was a struggle. It looks like the mother and child barely made it. But, against all odds, they both did.

What can I give him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd,
I would give a lamb.
If I were a wise man,
I would do my part.
What can I give him?
Give Him my heart.

You step closer to the child, approaching delicately so not to alarm. The parents start, and the father begins to rise. You don’t even notice him, though. You fall to your knees in the blood and mud and animal stink. There is something about this newborn. Something that radiates from inside.

He turns and looks at you. You stop breathing. A babe so small could not truly focus on a person: you know that. But his gaze pierces into your soul. The baby raises one skinny hand towards you and touches your face. In the ice and dark and howl you are overtaken by a cascading warmth, a slice of steeped infinity in the confined emptiness. Tears rupture over the lips of your eyelids as you moan. In one moment, realization dawns: this child, born amidst squalor and cold and night, is meant to save the world. And you are so grateful because you know with every fiber that He will succeed.

Angels wreathed in singing,
Host of heaven adore.
Star beheld with glory
That did not shine before.
Shepherds fear the blinding light,
Haste to understand.
In the bleak midwinter
Peace for child, for man.

(Author’s Note: I fully realize this is probably not an accurate portrayal of what it was actually like on the night Christ was born. It’s not supposed to be. What I hope it is instead is a different way of looking at Christmas, and also an expression of how I have seen Christmas for many years. The deep, stark contrasts of the winter, the cold and ice, the dark and the light and the sacred and the wonderful all intertwined and enmeshed to form the breathtaking time of year that is Christmas.

I will have two other Advent posts, assuming all goes according to plan. Stay tuned for more, share this with someone you care about, and God bless you until next time!)

 

References

“In the Bleak Midwinter” by Christina Rosetti (1872.) Includes additional lyrics written by Jars of Clay (“Christmas Songs”, 2007.)