In the Bleak Midwinter
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.
Enough for Him, whom Cherubim worship night and day, a breastful of milk and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom Angels fall down before, the ox and ass and camel which adore.
Winter in Israel bears little resemblance to what the author writes here. The temperatures range from 45-55 degrees Fahrenheit. So much for earth being hard as iron and water like a stone; but I believe the author, Christina Rossetti may have been describing the condition of the human heart.
“Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26)
This was part of a conversation the LORD was having with Ezekiel, who in turn was to pass along to Israel, since Israel had not done well in proclaiming the holiness of the LORD to the surrounding nations. Rather than releasing dire consequences upon Israel, God decides to bring healing: “For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols.” (Ezekiel 36:24-25) Then comes the part about a heart of stone, a heart like winter—or frozen water; such was the world when Christ came into it.
So how did we get these hearts of stone? King David tells warns us in Psalm 115 of the dangers of worshiping idols: Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them.
The third verse speaks to something we often forget, especially when it comes to making it personal. The Christmas narratives from the Gospels, prophecies and subsequent teaching speak plainly and forcefully to the deity and humility of Christ. The King of kings and Lord of Lords took on flesh, and was born of a virgin. The Apostle Paul explains it well:
Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. (Philippians 2: 6-8 NLT)
Jesus Christ gives us the greatest example of a life of humility, first by laying aside His “divine privileges”, then humbled Himself further by dying for our sins on the cross. Going from the non-stop worship of the cherubim to mother’s milk and a bed of hay was entirely within His character. As was the stark contrast between angels falling prostrate before Him to simple barnyard beasts adoring Him.
Perhaps God’s greatest goal for your life and for mine is to make us like Jesus. Paul tells us in Romans: For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son. So do you think humility would be part of that process for us? Of course.
Rossetti wraps up her verses with an application: Yet what I can I give Him, give my heart. Humility is what brings us to Christ, to exchange a heart of stone for a new heart. Will you give your heart to Him this Christmas?