I love this carol. And, it seems, I’m not the only one. In 2008, the Harold Darke setting (the one we all know) from 1911 was honoured as the best Christmas Carol in a poll of choirmasters and choral experts. I have to say, I was really pleased to receive it on my list for this year. I’m sure it will come as no surprise that I lean towards the melancholy, at least musically, and this one definitely falls into that category. The words are based on a poem written by Christina Rosetti around 1872. And what words they are.
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.
So stunning. Such a picture of a peaceful winter’s night. So bleak and beautiful all at the same time.
Now, I will admit that there are probably some problems with the whole description of the birth of Jesus found here. I do understand that Bethlehem isn’t exactly located in the snow covered, British countryside, and that midwinter may be an arbitrary date selected to coincide with winter festivals of old. I can live with this. The notion of the bleak midwinter being a metaphor for how hard hearted and cold we and our world can be, seems fitting. Finding warmth in the potential arising from the birth of this child is a good way to read this one.
The theme of peace is usually recognized on the second Sunday of Advent. I find this carol very peaceful. I find a cold, dark and clear winter night peaceful. And yet, I am reminded regularly that we do not live in a peaceful world. It is easy to forget at this time of year that buried beneath the glitter of the season, lies a small idea that provides an opportunity to encourage the peace most of us are looking for. For me, the very last verse sums this up. It speaks about how we are equipped to give the gift of ourselves; our hearts. We are good enough for this Son of God. Surely that implies how much we each have to offer this world.
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.
So in the midst of a cold, hard hearted world – sometimes beautiful and sometimes bleak, give what is truly yours to give. More than enough. Not very costly. And, likely valued by the recipient in ways that you will never know.