“For a child is born
to us, a son is given us;
upon his shoulder dominion rests.
They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero,
Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.”
From the First Reading of Isaiah 9:1-6
The carol “In the Bleak Midwinter” based on the poem ‘A Christmas Carol’ by English poet Christina Rossetti, speaks of how through winter’s frosty wind and earth as hard as iron, something miraculous takes place as God breaks through the stillness of that cold and star filled night to be born among us. One of the most poignant lines of the carol states, “Our God, heaven cannot hold Him nor earth sustain, heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.” Heaven could no longer hold back the longing of Christ to come into our world in order that we might fully identify with the Son of God as one like us in our humanity. Ironically, this most majestic of events takes place in a desolate manger, where, as the hymn mentions, a stable place and hay sufficed, and in the unimpressive, small village of Bethlehem. Truly, the infant child Jesus could no longer be held back from becoming Incarnate and dwelling among us, Emmanuel.
Another verse of the hymn states that as the ox and camel surrounded the child, so too did Angels and Archangels, Cherubim and Seraphim who “thronged the air; but only his mother in her maiden bliss, worshipped the Beloved with a kiss.” He who would one day fulfill the great prophesies of Isaiah by becoming our counselor who shared his wisdom through parable and beatitude; our Hero who reversed the ancient curse of Adam; our Father who would shepherd the lost by seeking sinners; and our Prince of Peace who calls us to turn our cheek and forgive seven by seven times. How badly do we need this Prince of Peace to comfort hearts shattered by the violence and cruelty of the current wars that haunt us and divisions that degrade our dignity. Christmas reminds us that this all powerful Messiah came first as a vulnerable, innocent child, depending on the nurture of his faithful mother Mary and the shrewd protection of his humble father, Joseph.
The song continues by asking, “what can I give Him”? Being neither shepherds, who could offer a lamb, or wise men, who could do their part, what we can offer is simple yet profound, our heart! This Christmas Season, may we experience the joy and wonder of the mystery of the Incarnation that took place in the bleak of a midwinter many years ago.