Love is found in the bleak mid-winter
Read: Luke 1: 1-20
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,
It’s not the weather that is making the winter so bleak; or the wind that is moaning. It’s our mood that is bleak and our words that are moaning. Understandably so!
It’s not that the earth has become as hard as iron or because water has turned to stone that this winter is so bleak. It’s our fear that takes an iron grip and has frozen life for the year. Yet, in our bleak mid-winter, the bleakest many have ever known, nothing can stop our God from softening the feelings of earth and turning this year of ice into living waters again with a gift from heaven.
When my wife came to the UK from St Lucia in the 1960’s she had been used to the warmth of the Caribbean climate and suddenly life was frosty wind, stoney water and falling snow. It was cold and bleak, good cause to moan, but through it all she had to sing.
She was training to be a nurse at the time and as her first Christmas in England approached she was asked to sing at the student celebration, In the bleak mid-winter. She had never heard the carol before, nor experienced such weather, but she sang and raised the spirits, I am sure, of people who heard.
That’s what God does through us because in the bleakest of winters Love is born to bring warmth and light into the darkest times of our lives. The Government have decreed that we only have one day to celebrate with our families so everyone has rushed off to their home towns, but there is no room in hotels or homes for overnight accommodation. We have to make the best of a bleak mid-winter.
“It is Love that comes down at Christmas, Love all lovely, Love divine; Love is born at Christmas, star and angels give the sign.” Words of another Carol by Christina Rossetti who also reminds us that, “Love shall be our token, love be yours and love be mine, love to God and everyone, love for plea and gift and sign.”
It is the love that is born in unexpected places, through the adversity of circumstances, and wrapped up in a bundle of humanity ready for the world to see. It happened in that little town of Bethlehem where, in the dark streets, shone an everlasting light through which the hopes and fears of all our years were found that Christmas night. The carol tells us how “God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heaven” and for the “holy Child of Bethlehem to descend on us we pray; cast out our sin, and enter in; be born in us today.”
The winter may seem bleak with our words moaning like the wind, all earth frozen with fear and water turned into stone, but love will melt away the snow and reveal a new life that brings joy to the world. Yes, I can sing another carol to brighten the bleak mid-winter — and excuse the change of word from Lord to Love for creative licence!
Joy to the world, the Love has come! let earth receive our King; let every heart prepare Love room
and heaven and nature sing, and heaven and nature sing, and heaven and nature sing, and heaven, and heaven and nature sing!
Birth is painful as I am sure it was for Mary who had no midwife to help her and had to wrap her own child in whatever cloths she had and place him in, we are told, the most humble of cots, an animals manger! I won’t go into all the messy details of birth, but we do romanticise the story with all the joy of the new born child and ignore Mary’s pain suffered with only a man, poor Joseph, to hold her hand!
There is pain and mess at Christmas as at any other time of the year, but we “forget the anguish because of the joy that a child is born into the world.” (John 16: 17-24) As we go through the bleak mid-winter with so much adversity we look forward to the birth of a new life in which love, peace and hope join together to sing with joy as they bring light to the world.
It’s not something we will believe until we see it. Strangers singing carols of hope, or preachers proclaiming the good news won’t take away the fear as we try to get on with our daily routine. Not many of us are familiar with angels appearing and the glory of the Lord shining all around so would be terrified if it happened to us one silent night. (I will resist the carol and shepherds first seeing the light!)
There must have been hundreds of shepherds on the hills around Bethlehem trying to cope with life on that bleak mid-winter night, but according to our Nativity stories it’s usually only three, or less, who are convinced by a heavenly choir to hurry off to find what they have been told about. It could have been their last resort because they didn’t want to be looking after sheep for the rest of their lives so off they go to find a better life. None of us want to be stuck with the bleak mid-winter we are experiencing so why be afraid of the good news that can give us great joy to share with the world?
When a grandad finished telling the story of the birth of Jesus the child asked with a tone that suggested a challenging question: “Grandad! What do shepherds do!”
“Shepherds look after sheep, like I look after you,” grandad replied with a smile.
There was a pause before the child asked another question: “Grandad! Would you leave me on my own to go and find the baby Jesus?”
Grandad did not hesitate with his reply: “Of course not!”
There is always another question with children, and it came: “Does that mean I am more special than Jesus?”
“No!” said grandad with a hug and a smile. “I would take you with me!”
If you are like one of the shepherds who listen to the song of the angels in the bleak mid-winter take your sheep with you and find Love and when you find it spread the word with joy to the world! We are in circumstances we don’t like, so we must change them and the Love God sends will do that.
As we cook our Christmas dinner we can put potatoes in boiling water and they will become soft or we can do the same with an egg and it will become hard. THEY are changed by the circumstances they experience. When you take a break from all the work and put a tea bag in the cup it will change the water.
Love is like your tea bag that will change the circumstances around you so, on this bleak mid-winter, may you find the gift from God that stops our words from moaning and will melt away our fear as we find a life to celebrate. Have a good tea-bag Christmas and a brighter year to come!