Bleak Midwinter? | Connecting with Culture
Winter wonderland, or a nightmare before Christmas? Those seemed to be the two main reactions when the majority of the British public woke up to a thick blanket of snow on Sunday morning.
Typical scenes have played across the news this week: despondent drivers shovelling around their cars, broken down buses, and power outages.
As inconvenient as the snowfall might be, there’s something undeniably breath-taking about that first moment, gazing out at a pure white blanket which has transformed the familiar into something beautiful.
For me, it always brings to mind a favourite carol, ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’. Written by Christina Rossetti, it was originally a poem published in a magazine in 1872. I love it because it’s full of the very contrasts and reversals which make Jesus so surprising.
‘Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him’, yet here a ramshackle ‘stable place sufficed’. A mighty King ‘whom cherubim, worship night and day’ is provided with just a ‘breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay’. Jesus is so holy and so worthy that ‘angels fall before’ him, yet in this humble nativity scene it’s ‘the ox and ass and camel which adore’.
These words capture a beautiful glimpse of Jesus as he’s described in Philippians 2:6–7:
‘Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.’
Rossetti’s frosty setting is just a poetic device, and Jesus probably wasn’t born in the winter. But still, I think there’s something rather powerful about the image of Christ’s birth at the very darkest moment of the year, with the earth hardened and water frozen. Here is a baby who offers to bring new light and life, even in the midst of the bleak midwinter.
By the end of the day, the snow has turned into a grey and ugly sludge, trampled underfoot. It’s a poignant reminder of the mess we humans leave behind. How wonderful, then, that God does quite the opposite when he chooses to transform our blackened, trampled slush into a dazzlingly pure white. So even when the trains are delayed and the motorways grind to a halt, may we whisper with the awe of the psalmist:
‘Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.’
Katherine is in her final year studying English at Cambridge University. See her her blogs here.