Posted on: December 14, 2022 Posted by: vudfc Comments: 0

By Rhonda Maydwell

Despite the songs that depict Christmas as a rocking around a tree, holly-jolly, everyone telling you to be of good cheer, chestnut roasting, winter wonderland, most wonderful time of the year… that’s a far cry from the reality of the first Christmas.

The setting of the first Christmas was that of an engaged couple heading to town, not to buy gifts and catch the Nutcracker performance, but to be counted for heavy taxes to be levied from an oppressive government. No Christmas photo shoots for this couple who are expecting their first child. Shrouded in shame, controversy, scandal, and doubt about their own circumstances—this journey is no rollicking sleighride.

When her labor pains start, this teenager is told there is no room for her to deliver her baby. She is relegated to a stable, in the elements, with no help except for her husband-to-be who has never seen her naked body. We might be tempted to romanticize the scene; but the reality was that she gave birth to the King of Heaven in a dirty, smelly, open stable. She must have asked herself how this could be if she was really giving birth to the Son of God.

Christina Rossetti’s poem In the Bleak Midwinter more aptly describes the scene.

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.

The poem, originally published in Scribner’s Monthly in 1872, was set to music and arranged as a Christmas carol in 1906. Perhaps better known in England, the poem first caught my eye last year through a Christmas devotional. Facing a challenging Christmas in my household, as my husband was in treatment for a recent diagnosis of rectal cancer, I appreciated the realism of that difficult first Christmas.

The false cheer of jingling bells, city sidewalks, and a few of my favorite things couldn’t touch the pain, disappointment and fear of my Christmas season. Mine was a season of lament. Pointed questions, niggling doubts, reminders of promises promised, and a halting faith terrified of being made the fool for having believed.  Could Mary and Joseph have felt those things on their own bleak, mid-winter night? Perhaps they asked questions…

Why now?

Why this way?

Why us?

How long will we be mocked for this “miraculous” pregnancy?

Will anyone ever believe our incredible story?

Are You sure I can trust her?

Are You sure he won’t leave me?

Maybe they whispered complaints…

I did not ask for this.

The timing is terrible!

Everyone is laughing at me.

Everyone is judging me.

No one has pity on us.

No one will make room for me or my baby.

How am I supposed to lead this family?

Did the couple bicker? Was there stony silence? Did Mary dare ask for a restroom break from this fiancé who saved her from ruin? They were cold. They were tired. Over the hills and through the woods but to where? Their world was hard and unyielding. A friendly face was nowhere to be found. Such a bleak, mid-winter night…

Yet… A cry in the night. A tiny hand wrapped around his mother’s finger, a breastful of milk, a holy kiss. Hope. Maybe this will be all right. Perhaps the timing is right. Joseph by her side, the Spirit of Christmas warming the air. God had provided. He will continue to provide, protect, and preside over this little life—this odd little family.

And it was in this bleak little poem in my own mid-winter that I found hope to believe that He would provide for, protect, and preside over our lives too. The hope of Christmas found in the bleakest of circumstances.

I may not always understand His ways, but I have learned am learning that when I trust—even amidst the bleak that He is faithful. Who better can I serve?

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.

Whether this Christmas you are in a season of bliss or despair, my prayer is that you find peace in His presence and unwrap the hope that comes when we wait and watch to see what He does. God’s greatest miracle arrived in the bleakest and unlikeliest of circumstances. Yet He did come! And He comes for you too.

You can listen to the Christmas carol here.

Interested in reading the whole poem?

In the bleak midwinter


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.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;

Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.

In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed

The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, whom cherubim, worship night and day,

Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;

Enough for Him, whom angels fall before,

The ox and ass and camel which adore.

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,

Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;

But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,

Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.

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.


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