Poetry: Rossetti – In the Bleak Midwinter

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.

I know very few poems by Christina Rossetti, but her winter and Christmas poems and songs have found a special place in my heart, and this one more than most. The first verse is reminiscent of See, Amid the Winter’s Snow. Here is the lost and lonely world, cold, dead in sin with hearts of stone, and a light has shone! Soft, white snow falls in the bleakness of mid-winter like manna in the desert. Amidst the dark and dreary world, a bit of white reflects the light into our hearts again. 

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.

But it was more than snow that was born on earth that night “in the bleak mid-winter long ago.” The Lamb of God was born that night. Taking the form of a servant, He left heaven for us. And yet, this earth is still awaiting renewal by fire, after which “heaven and earth will flee away” and be made new. Christ will come again and reign! But now, we think back to that first coming in the midst of dreary winter when He came not in glory, nor to reign in a kingdom on earth, but to be born in a simple stable. Here, He took on flesh: He, the Lord Almighty, a newborn babe.

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.

The phrase “enough for Him” is repeated in these stanzas. What was enough for Him? Yes, all the heavenly hosts sang His arrival, and kings would come to worship Him. He is the Lord Almighty! But on this night, the world saw how He took on the lowly things, this Infant Holy. His mother’s arms and a feeding trough were enough for the Son of God and Son of Man. And here, I consider how much I love these chorals and poems written by women. For here, Rossetti takes note of things only a woman would. She looks at Mary, a new mother doting on her newborn son, and captures that marvelous moment. Yes, angles praise Him. But here His mother’s love was enough for Him, His mother who “In her maiden bliss worshiped the Beloved with a kiss.” How simple, how pure, how human. Here, we see God made man for us, loved by His mother.

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 so, in light of this great sacrifice, we think along with Rossetti, “How can we repay this gift of love?” Our Lord Almighty condescended to the form of man, taking on our flesh, being born of a woman, finding rest in a stall surrounded by animals. What can we give Him? Rossetti gives us some answers. We could give our gifts and talents? But no, we cannot give him even what she suggests: our hearts. We were dead in sin with hearts of stone. We groaned in our separation. And yet, like the snow on that bleak mid-winter world, the waters of baptism have fallen on us. We have been renewed and made His. He has our heart, He will come again to reign, and this world will have no more bleak mid-winter.

The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
    on them has light shone.

Isaiah 9:2

Blessings to you and yours,

~Madelyn Rose Craig

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