in the bleak midwinter

I’ve always been more comfortable in melancholy and sadness, more so that the average human being. It’s something that 2017 taught me to lean into more, but also be careful of, since it can lead to unhealthy ways of thinking and skewed perspectives on reality.

So I’ve been in a place where I’m learning to own this part of my personhood, but trying hard not to let it sink me deep into a place where I don’t belong. It’s a tricky tightrope, one I’m thankful to walk because it means I’m learning healthier ways to find proper perspective, rather than just the tried and true “snap out of it” attitude that is so prevalent in my culture. And I’ve never been more aware of that as I have this Advent season.

This advent season has so far been full of a lot of joy… but also a lot of sadness. It’s usually just sadness for me, so I’m thankful for those joyful moments. I’ve also learned to be thankful for the sad ones because in both I learn more about who God has created me to be, and who he wants to mold me into being.

And there are few things that help me see these truths in the way music does.

Christina Rossetti is one of the greatest poets of the 19th century in my mind, having written more than 50 by the time she was 16. (This is my story, too, those hers were much much better.) Her sense of longing and sadness has always resonated with me, and never more so than in the song In the Bleak Midwinter. I own several versions of the song, with my favorites being the Choir of Christ’s College and The Brilliance’s version from the Advent, Volume 2 album.

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, long ago.
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 Almighty, Jesus Christ.
Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
but his mother only, in her maiden bliss,
worshiped the beloved with a kiss.
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.

The beauty of this poem for me is how it perfectly juxtaposes both despair and sadness… the despair and sadness of being a follower of Christ. Every day I am wrecked by the ravages of the Fall, and yet every day I live in the reality that Jesus came, lived, and died for me. For the rescue and redemption of this world.

Our hope lies in the truth expressed in verse two, that heaven cannot hold our God… that he will come to reign. The ravages of the Fall have made me poor, living in the bleak midwinter.

So what can I give him? I can give him my heart.

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