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
~ Christina Georgina Rossetti
On this third Advent Sunday, December's chill hangs in the air. The season of winter feels like it's settling in and making herself right at home. Try as I might sometimes, I just can't quite bundle up enough. The cold around me feels as much inside as out. Bone cold comes mid-winter. Nights are almost as long as they can get, and we feel darkness' coming earlier and earlier each evening.
Our Christmas carols hold such rich, connective and enduring words. Especially in this carol, we are held snugly in the wintering season. In this hymn's haunting melody, as well as the heartening lyrics, we are welcomed back to a familiar a place that recognizes our feelings of hope and longing. Many of us yearn for something new to enter into this moment. Something different. Something redeeming. Something sustaining.
When I was first coming to love this hymn (and not knowing the composer was English), I was certain that it was written by someone who grew up in Central Illinois. These words understood what we all knew of our deep, endless and bitter-cold winters. If you've ever fallen on the ice, you know about earth standing hard as iron, water being much like a stone. If you've walked, especially at night there is a moaning made by the wind that stays inside you.
So many beautiful carols have been written to hold this season, these bleak mid-winter days. Many words and phrases we know by heart: "late in time behold him come;" "when half-spent was the night;" "the hopes and fears of all the years;" "with the angels let us sing, alleluia." When we were little my sisters and I would stand next to our grandmother in church. I would always be amazed to see her crying. We would lean in closer to her as tears ran down her cheeks. Sunday after Sunday - especially at Christmas time - she would cry, and somehow, somehow she would continue to sing.
Now, years later, as I think about this carol and so many of the carols I have loved my whole life, I know well my grandmother's tears. I feel my own tears going down my cheeks, and see our sons watching me. There is amazing comfort in being held by years of singing these carols that I know by heart. As I sing, hearing others' voices, time falls away. In many ways some of the strongest words of my faith are held in these carols. Centuries ago Miss Rossetti knew that there are times when the wind moans. She, too had seen such storms that snow fell on snow, snow on snow. And somehow she gave us a carol. This carol which today companions me past what can bend, but somehow not quite break. Her words enfold, encourage and resound - just on up ahead.
I wonder if this year I will be able to sing this carol all the way through to the last verse. I know I'll be hearing my grandmother's voice. Maybe this year Brogan or Sam will sing it through to the end.