A Christmas Meditation

(I wrote this for Kate‘s newsletter.)


A couple of weeks ago, I spent some extended time with God. I was in the middle of a potential tragedy in my life, and seeking for solace of some kind, for a reminder that God was in control and cared.

I started by singing some hymns. Specifically, Christmas carols. One of the songs I ended up singing said this:

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.

In my mind I couldn’t help picturing the scene: cold, still, lonely, silent. No one around for miles and miles. It sounds sad, but it didn’t make me feel sad. In my imagination it was beautiful and strange and other-worldly.

I felt as though God were giving me imagery to match my mood, and showing me the beauty in being there with Him. The next verse said:

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.

Now the first Christmas, from the little I understand, may not have taken place in snowy December but in temperate March. Still, I can see why songwriters through the ages were drawn to the picture of God quietly invading earth on a clear, moonlit, freezing night.

A more familiar carol says this:

O little town of Bethlehem,
how still we see thee lie;
above thy deep and dreamless sleep
the silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
the everlasting light;
the hopes and fears of all the years
are met in thee tonight. 

and, in the third verse,

How silently, how silently,
the wondrous gift is given;
so God imparts to human hearts
the blessings of his heaven.
No ear may hear his coming,
but in this world of sin,
where meek souls will receive him, still
the dear Christ enters in.

As I clung to God that day, I felt like those songs. My world was frozen at that moment in time. God was asking for me to just wait for the moment to come when he would quietly step in with His salvation.

* * * * *

Scripture paints a similar picture. Here is Psalm 147:16-17

He gives snow like wool;
He scatters the frost like ashes.
He casts forth His ice as fragments;
Who can stand before His cold?

Psalm 147 is a psalm of praise. When Jewish believers sang this psalm in the temple, they were acknowledging the fearful power of God. God’s is sovereign. God is transcendent.

Sometimes we come face to face with the universe and realize just how little we are. God is infinitely mightier than the universe. Winter turns to summer and then to winter again, but it is all part of God’s plan. Storms arise and subside, but nothing is ever out of his control.

Look at the same verses in context:

He sends forth His command to the earth;
His word runs very swiftly.
He gives snow like wool;
He scatters the frost like ashes.
He casts forth His ice as fragments;
Who can stand before His cold?
He sends forth His word and melts them;
He causes His wind to blow and the waters to flow.

Everything happens according to God’s decree. When he decrees winter, there is winter. When he decrees an ice storm, there is an ice storm. But it is all under control. The day comes when he sends forth his word to thaw the frozen ground. He sends forth his wind to warm the ice. Spring arrives.  Waters begin to flow again.

The Psalms were written to be sung in worship by God’s people in all sorts of circumstances. Their composers intended them to be taken not just literally but also as metaphors for the work of God in general. They expected people to relate the imagery to their own lives as they sang. Someone might sing, “Who can stand before His cold?” and think, “That describe my life right now. I am undone by the things that are happening to me.” Then they would sing, “He sends forth His word and melts them; He causes His wind to blow and the waters to flow,” and think, “I long for the day when God sends forth His word to melt the ice in my life. I long for the day when His Spirit will set the waters flowing again.” They would go on singing praise in hope of the deliverance coming one day.

Which brings us back to Christmas:

Lo, how a Rose e’er blooming
from tender stem hath sprung!
Of Jesse’s lineage coming,
as men of old have sung.
It came, a floweret bright,
amid the cold of winter,
when half spent was the night.

Here is one last song about God quietly stepping in to our cold world to save us.

           Welcome To Our World


The Christmas carols were:
In the Bleak Midwinter, text by Christina G. Rossetti, 1830-1894
O Little Town of Bethlehem, text by Phillips Brooks, 1835-1893
Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming, 15th cent. German; trans. by Theodore Baker

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