In the Bleak Mid-Winter

In the Bleak Midwinter

Composed by the English poet, Christina Rossetti, 1872

Devotional commentary, Richard Leslie Parrott, Ph.D.

I find that this poem captures the meaning of Christmas, the birth of the Messiah, rather than the historical setting of the event.  Consider the words of the poem and a few comments from Scripture.

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.

The poem does not describe the weather in Bethlehem on the night of the Messiah’s birth.  However, it does describe the hardened heart of God’s people, waiting for the return of their God, longing for liberation, crying for His presence, and angry at the delay.  In the winter of Israel’s captivity under Rome (a continuation of the Exile), God returned to His people, incarnate in an infant.  In the Messiah-King, Jesus, God fulfills all His promises.  To Mary, the Angel announced, “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end” (Luke 1:31-33).

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.

God is bigger than His creation.  God is determined to restore His creation.  At the dedication of the Temple, Solomon prayed, “But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you” (1 Kings 8:27).  In Jesus, God has inaugurated the New Heaven and the New Earth.  The Old heaven and earth will flee away with all that is sin, death, and the devil (Revelation 21:1-3).  He shall reign, forever, Hallelujah (Luke 1:32; Revelation 11:15)!

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.

The humility of God, whom Angels worship, is displayed in the scene.  It is a scene the whole of creation understands.  It is a picture that attracts our adoration.  And, it is the first step of the one who humbled himself by becoming obedient to death– even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8)!  “Therefore God exalted him to the highest placeand gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).

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.

It is not heavenly beings that are honored with the intimacy of God’s presence in Christ.  It is humankind, specifically, a young teenage girl who holds the Lord, Maker of Heaven and Earth, in the crook of her arm.  God has made us “a little lower than the angels and crowned with glory and honor” (Psalms 8:5).  [The word “angels” is a translation of mê·’ĕ·lō·hîm, a word used four times in the Old Testament. In the other three places where the word is used, the translation is “God,” as in “made us a little lower than God.”]

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.

Now, the verse that asks us to make a personal response to the gift of God incarnate: The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1:9-13).

*In the Bleak Midwinter is a Christmas carol based on a poem by the English poet Christina Rossetti. The poem was published, under the title “A Christmas Carol”, in the January 1872 issue of Scribner’s Monthly.  The poem, set to Harold Darke’s anthem, was named the best Christmas carol in a poll of some of the world’s leading choirmasters and choral experts in 2008.

Leave a Reply