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.
By far one of my favorite carols, it was written by the English poet Christina Rossetti in the nineteenth-century. Finally set to music at the beginning of the twentieth-century, it has been a mainstay in Lessons and Carols services ever since.
Rossetti has taken the Christmas story and placed it in her own setting. Like the Renaissance plays that we sometimes stage with modern backdrops, the author has helped us to imagine the Christ-child’s birth as it might have happened in Western Europe. It is a way of connecting with the story that illumines and expands our understanding of it.
The hymn takes us through the narrative, from Christ’s choice to come to earth through his miraculous birth. It marks the wonder of the witnesses and the gentle love of his mother. And then it turns to us – in one of the best verses in all of Christmas hymnary.
The question we often wonder: how are we to enter into this story? Well, here is her answer: 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.