12/24/2010

Like a Stone

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.

As Lindsay reminds us, the church chose to celebrate Christmas in the dead of winter[1], when the nights were at their longest, the weather at its coldest, and (in pre-modern societies) the food at its scarcest. It is in that context that we can best feel the full brightness of Christ’s coming into the world – “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.”

That is the world that Christ burst into, and it explains the exuberance of Zechariah, Mary, Simeon, Anna. Bowed down by burden and oppression, in long expectation of the Messiah who was now come.

It also explains why the church keeps Advent, a time of watching and waiting, in anticipation of Christmas (which is 12 days long, by the way!). My favorite Advent carol puts it this way:

Oh come, oh come Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear

Those are timeless words, not only for the Israel of long ago, but for anyone living in this sad and broken world. We too long and look for his coming.

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.

I can give him my heart, but what kind of a gift is that? Like the wintry earth in the first stanza it is hard as iron, like a stone.

As it turns out, that is the perfect thing to give him. For he can be born in my heart, bringing light to the darkness. The dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace. Come, Lord Jesus!


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[1] And, traditionally, the dead of night

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