In the bleak midwinter
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 midwinter,
So writes Christina Rossetti, in her hauntingly beautiful Christmas carol, ca. 1872. Following Milton, she explores the provocative theme that Christ came to earth, born on a frosty night, world blanketed by freshly fallen snow. It is a beautiful thought, and one with theological significance – the Lord of glory descends in the bleak midwinter, the darkest, shortest days of our year, Light of Light, very God of very God, to lighten our way – into our dark coldness He descends with the warmth of heaven’s light: our Lord Jesus Christ!
Christina continues this theme from Advent to Advent, where the fruition of the humble stable is found on another bleak midwinter, somewhere in human time:
Our God, heaven cannot hold him
nor earth sustain;
heaven and earth shall flee away
when He comes to reign:
in the bleak midwinter
a stable place sufficed
the Lord God incarnate,
Then, compellingly, Christiana brings the theology to the human heart:
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 here we see the theological significance of His descent in midwinter: Before His descent, it is always winter. He comes to the cold, the frozen heart, and brings it life. He is no stranger to the frozen human soul, for that is why He came; indeed, that is just when He comes: in the bleak midwinter – just for you, for me! Our only real response is in giving Him that which is His – our heart.
Humanly speaking, we cannot allow our coldness to deny His warmth, for He is no stranger to the cold! That is why He descended, so long ago; and that is why He descends, now, this day, in the Spirit – just for you, for me!
The heart grown cold is just the place He desires: open, and see – your winter shall pass away! It cannot always be winter where the light of Life makes His home…
Amy Carmichael, in the midst of a winter of her life, applies this truth, in high, beautiful faith.
Every “winter” comes to an end
See! the winter is past; the rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come… the blossoming vines spread their fragrance. “Arise… come with me!”
Song of Songs 2:11-13
“The Lord your God is with you… He will take great delight in you, He will [rest you] with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.”
This morning, my helpers turned my chair, so that I could see the leafy enclosure upon which my room opens… And all this sweet greenness and dewy freshness is a message:
Leaves and flowers – down to the last bud – are nourished by the living sap within. They do not cause it to rise, or regulate its flow. They do not understand its mysterious power. But as it flows through them, it revives them. Renews them.
We may have others to help us. Or we may have no one. But whether we are set in families or must face circumstances alone, we know that we must depend on something that is not of ourselves to keep us fresh and green.
Sometimes we are too spent even to pray for this renewing life to flow within.
We need not pray! There are times when all that is asked of us is just what is asked of leaves and flowers: They remain in the plant; the sap flows up to them: “As the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you. Now remain in My love…” [John 15:9].
The most tired of us can remain, stay there, be there – no words can be too simple to explain what our Lord means by this: He says, simply, ‘Do not go away.’
…Even if we are completely silent, asking nothing, only letting our hearts rest in quietness in Him… He will cause the renewing life-sap to rise…
The things we would least choose to face are round about us. But in these things, says Rutherford, “Do not let yourself be thrown down or give into despair. Stand evenly at the will of God…”
“For after winter comes summer. After night comes the dawn. And after every storm there comes clear, open sky.”
My Father, all that has gone cold and lifeless in me… is that just your planned stillness before new life flows?
Are the hands I’ve clenched in troubled prayer, like tight leaf buds, about to spring into open-handed praise, because your Spirit comes again?
I believe, Father, that the joy of a new season in you is warming me right now…