In the Bleak Midwinter
In the bleak mid-winter,
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone……
What can I give (Christ),
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 given him –
Give my heart.
I’ve never been much given to New Year’s resolutions. My working class and pragmatic upbringing made things like Santa Claus and resolutions seem just a bit too fanciful – almost bourgeois.
To be honest, “hardscrabble” would well describe a good part of my formative years. I thank God that my father (unwittingly, for sure!) exposed me to a degree of emotional vulnerability because otherwise my life consisted mostly of an incongruous combination of stoicism in everyday life (that would be Mom’s influence), but pietism at church.
What happens when stoicism and pietism are brought together? Well, a certain odd admixture of distance and emotionalism, at least. It’s dysfunctional in many respects, but it’s all I know and mostly it serves to get me from day to day and from challenge to challenge – including “the bleak midwinter.”
A couple weeks ago we passed the winter solstice. As autumn ages and the sun sinks everyday lower in the sky, I long for the turning point of the solstice. Even though I can’t pinpoint it with the naked eye, I have enough faith in the calculations of astronomers to take some considerable solace in the certainty that from this late December day on, the days will not get any shorter….in fact, they will begin to lengthen.
So…it’s about hope…as is so much of faith!
I love the sunny days of summer – always have (and have an increasing topamax 400 mg incidence of skin cancers to show for it – please put on your sunscreen and hat, younger friends!), but for many of us, the “bleak midwinter” is a more or less constant companion. The Apostle Paul complained of a “thorn in the flesh” – mine, I suppose is this predilection to the dark side.
I’ve no idea if anyone in the southern hemisphere has ever tried to make something constructive of this geographically parochial Christmas hymn – it would be hard, I suppose. I live in the north, however, and it works for me, and maybe it does for you too.
It works for me because it ends with hope. Not the hope of the realm of justice and peace (though I long for that as well), instead it ends with a pointed suggestion that somehow I know I should and can embrace. When the writer suggests whole-self surrender to the divine infant I can imagine nothing more bracing and more helpful. I can choose to do that. If God can arrange to redeem creation through the birth of a helpless child in more or less hopeless conditions, then how can I resist the invitation to turn myself over to that God and to that child?
So (in spite of myself!) it ends up being a sort of New Year’s resolution, I suppose. In fact, it’s an every-day sort of resolution, partly because I’m so given to recidivism. Over and over and over and again I do my best to give myself to Jesus. And it never gets old.
And I’m grateful!
Maybe you’d like to join me. Let’s give our hearts!
With hope for 2015!
UCC Conference Minister for Iowa