In The Bleak Midwinter—Comfort & Joy

December 25th, 2017  |   

Christmas Day is about to come to an end. I had my Christmas dinner a few hours ago at the Concord Hospital cafeteria. No, I wasn’t a patient. I was eating with my daughter Deb, who was a nurse on duty there.

Last night, Deb, granddaughter Sarah, and I went to the Christmas Eve service at the local Episcopal Church. I was there anticipating the music, with familiar carols to sing.

One that pierces my soul, while penetrating my heart, is Christina Rossetti’s “In The Bleak Midwinter.” It was Judy’s favorite carol. Perhaps, in part, that’s because she grew up in Western New York where “earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone” and “snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow.”

Right now, even without snow or subfreezing temperatures, our nation is living in a bleak midwinter, a cultural, moral, and political midwinter. Bitter winds blow harshly over our country.  Shakespeare called times like this, “The winter of our discontent.” John Steinbeck appropriated those words for the title of his last novel. Steinbeck stated that he wrote the novel to address the moral degeneration of American culture, interestingly enough, just prior to Watergate.

The Christmas story tells us that Mary, “pondered’ the conception and birth of Jesus. I love the word “ponder.” It invites focusing, meditating, looking for substantial meaning into and about what goes on around us and within us. In the world of “breaking news” and broken people and systems, pondering is the prelude to cultural, moral, and political change.

Today, prior to supper at the hospital, I was alone at home. It offered me the opportunity to ponder the Christmas carols. The familiar words, “tidings of comfort and joy” captured my attention. How do I reconcile holding onto a message, a belief in comfort and joy in the bleak midwinter world where I live?

Do I live in Dr. Seuss’ Whoville,  where I join folks who sing joyously even though the Grinch has robbed them unmercifully? Is this Mean One, with a heart two sizes smaller than a compassionate person, consumed by talk of war, no more than a bully who plays his own game of Monopoly, in favor of the rich, at the expense of the poor?

Pondering past Christmas seasons, I see quite clearly that my nation has been at war against the poor, here at home and around the world, during my entire life. We have drunk from a chalice full of greed, unrestrained power, and unlimited war. I think of the Christmas I sang about tidings of comfort and joy, and heavenly angels singing while we were dropping bombs from the sky on the people of Vietnam and Cambodia. And still, it continues. And yet, we continue to sing. Is it required that we keep singing?

Ursula Le Guin writes that she has come away from musical concerts  “marveling that while our republic tears itself apart and our species frantically hurries to destroy its own household, yet we go on building with vibrations in the air, in the spirit—making this music, this intangible , beautiful, generous thing.”

So now it’s time to lay me down to sleep. Put the pondering to bed, believing in and anticipating those vibrations in the air, in the spirit, that keep us faithful in the struggle for peace, and justice, and a sturdy love in the bleak midwinter. To awaken and sing a new song in this strange land.

Entry Filed under: Fig Tree Notes Archives

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Nations will hammer swords into plows, their spears into sickles, there shall be no more training for war. Each person will sit under his or her fig tree in peace.
Micah 4:3 - 4