The Bleak Midwinter - on advent mourning and the source of hope and joy

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.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty,
Jesus Christ.

In the Bleak Midwinter by Christina Rossetti

These are the first two verses for the Christmas Carol that is speaking to me most this season.  The version that I have been listening to on repeat is by Kids and is on A Very Relevant Christmas, volume 5, part 1.  (You can download both parts...24 songs!'s free here.)  There are things about this carol that seem mournful to me, and maybe especially this version although, honestly, I'm not terribly familiar with the song.  That makes it an odd choice for a perfect Christmas song.  I think many Christmas songs beat us over the head with their insistence on joy.  But I'll be honest, joy isn't always my automatic reaction at Christmastime.

Tomorrow is my sister's birthday.  For 32 years of my life, December 7 felt like the kick-off of the Christmas season.  It was a day of joy, laughter, parties, usually cake.  My mom would tell of bringing Becky home from the hospital in a giant stocking.  Incidentally, December 7 is a great day to have a birthday.  It's close enough to Christmas to bask in the light of that anticipated holiday but far enough away from the actual day that it isn't forgotten in all the other festivities.  Also your sisters can tease you about how your birthday is "a day that will live in infamy."  But, I digress.  Almost 5 years ago, my sister died on a snowy night four days after Christmas.  The truth is, December 7 no longer feels like the Christmas season kick off, now it feels like a kickoff to a season of loss.

I know I'm not alone in experiencing holiday grief. More and more, the whole world is confronted with grief.  Every day we are confronted with news that breaks our hearts and causes us to weep.  It is so difficult to hold on to hope and joy when we are faced with so many things that seem hopeless. 

In some ways, I think this fight for hope and joy has always been a hallmark of Christmas.  Think of young, unmarried Mary when she received the first news of Advent.  In that moment, the coming of Jesus, an event she submitted to willingly, must have been difficult to greet with joy!  When Joseph learned that his wife-to-be was expecting, his plans and dreams for the future were certainly shattered, sometimes being open to God's plan requires putting your own plans to death.   Jesus was born in a stable, a location that doesn't seem like an ideal situation for hope to blossom.  In the days, weeks and years after Jesus was born, his parents were greeted with strange and dirty visitors, terrifying words of prophecy from an old man, and a leader who was so threatened by Jesus that he ordered the murder of all boys in Bethlehem age 2 and under.  The circumstances of Christmas have never been easy in the hope and joy department.

That's why the circumstances of Christmas aren't the source of hope and joy.  The source of hope and joy, at Christmas and throughout the year, is God.  Romans 15:13 says, "I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him.  Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit."  It is when we trust in God that we have hope.  It is when we trust in God that we experience joy and peace.

Christmas will always be tinged with mourning for me.  In so many ways, though, that grief reminds me to lean in and fight to trust God more fully.