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In the Bleak Midwinter

James Grayston

This is the time of year that we turn to the ever-familiar carols in the hymn book and, despite not learning the words since last year, many of us assume that we know them and can quote them by heart. As always, I can remember the odd line here and there and sometimes I can even, at a push, put an entire verse together pretty much word for word. This year I decided to do it differently and look at some of the carols that I know, I don't know very well and read what they actually say (not just because we're doing these blogs).

My mind fell upon the most dreary sounding of the carols, In the bleak midwinter. On the face of it, it's not the most uplifting of carols, that is if you only look at the first verse;

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.

Not quite got the same ring as: "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire." But still, it is a pretty fair summation of a good old British winter.

The next few verses pick up a bit and we start to see some hint of positivity creeping into the carol;

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.

I'm going to go through these next three verses with just a few small comments. Firstly, the contrast we see in this second verse. The God of all creation, whom neither earth nor he heavens can contain became a tiny baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. Surely this is the ultimate act of humility.

"But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built! - 1st Kings 8:27

And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. - Luke 2:7

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.

Christmas is a time of giving. At Christmas, we remember God's gift to the world of Jesus Christ as a baby in Bethlehem. More important than that however is what we remember at Easter. Jesus death on the cross was the way by which we can be given the greatest gift of all. Eternal life.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. - Romans 6:23

Every one of us has the opportunity to accept that gift and reap the benefits of it. We do that by confessing that Jesus Christ is lord and believing that God resided him from the dead. This is the greatest gift that you can receive this Christmas and of your whole life.

After we receive a gift it is customary to give a gift in return. We all know the gift givers lament; "What do you get the person who has everything?" Here however I'm going to pose a different question. What can we give the one who made everything?  What can we give God who have his son to die for us?

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.