Monday, December 17, 2012

Songs of the Season: In the Bleak Midwinter

As the joy of the season has been replaced with the choked cries of grief since the Newtown shootings, I find I have reached for my hymnbook to find songs of the season that won't gloss over the despair and helplessness I am feeling. Is there room in the manger for me, for us, this Christmas?

In the Bleak Midwinter is perhaps the most melancholy of Christmas carols (if you know another, do let me know). It was written by British poet Christina Rossetti (1830-1894).  Rossetti's father's physical and emotional health deteriorated when she was barely in her teens, resulting in instability and financial hardship for her family. She herself suffered a nervous breakdown at the age of 14 and had to leave school. She battled with depression for the rest of her life. At the age of 42, she was diagnosed with Graves' Disease and later, in 1893, was diagnosed with breast cancer. She died a year later.

Rossetti wrote the hymn around 1872, at the request of a magazine. The depiction of a cold world, snow on snow, snow on snow, reflects my mood today. There is a moan in my body longing for escape, an uncharacteristic bleakness to my spirit as I ponder the unspeakable horrors we humans inflict on each other.

Yet into this harsh and violent world, God comes. An infant. Vulnerable. Needy. And in spite of all heaven heralding the baby's arrival, it is his mother, in all her humanness, who cradled him in his arms and offered him what he most needed: love.

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.

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.

Oh 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 can I give Him, give my heart.

In the bleak midwinter, frosty winds may move
Earth stood hard as I am, water like the storm
If I were a Wise Man, would I do my part?
Yet what can I give Him, give my heart. 

 Is there room this year for me in the manger? Can I bring my tears as I face this broken world? Can I bring my weariness? Can I bring the fears I can barely utter aloud?

Yes, God comes: not because all is right with the world, but because in spite of all that is wrong, God desires love to prevail. God comes, not because I am prepared and ready to rejoice, but because God knows my need for healing. God comes.

Into the bleakness of my world, God comes. And while it feels as if I am but an empty vessel, there is nothing I have to do, just open my heart and let the healing warmth of God enter in.

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