In the Bleak Midwinter

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by Brian Waple

As I began reflecting on writing a Last Word for this week, I asked myself, “What would people need to hear?” Do they need to hear how much God loves them? Probably—we all need to be reminded of that. Or perhaps they need to hear about Christ’s substitutionary atonement for their sins. Again, in and of itself that’s good stuff, but not this week. Maybe they need to hear more about Pastor Martin’s new vision for creating a culture of being “disciples who make disciples among those who are not disciples” outside the walls of Elim. He promised we would hear more about that in the weeks to come.

Okay, so what then? I was ruminating on this and looking out the window and watching the rain, and then it dawned on me. As you may or may not know, winters in the Pacific Northwest can be difficult for some people (myself included). There is a bleakness to the winters here that makes us all groan for summer and warmer weather. That’s an interesting word—bleak. gives this definition: “without hope or encouragement; depressing; dreary.” I have said many times how dreary the winters are here … but hopeless?

There is a wonderful old Christmas hymn that I remember singing as a kid. It’s called In the Bleak Midwinter, and the words of the hymn were written by Christina Rossetti in the late 1800s. The last line of the hymn goes like this:

“What can I give Him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would give a lamb; if I were a wise man, I would do my part; yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.” (my italics)

Giving one’s heart means not holding back at all. In the hymn, Rossetti is speaking about what we have to give the Christ child. And even in the midst of our most abject poverty, when we have nothing left to give, we can still give our heart! It is interesting when we reflect on what God gave us. Almighty God could have given in to the desires that spring up from our wildest dreams. But He didn’t; instead, He gave us the most precious thing He had to give: He gave us his Son. He gave us His heart. And with that gift, we are not hopeless.

So, when life seems as bleak as a Pacific Northwest winter, the hope that we who call Jesus Lord and Savior have transcends the bleakness, the dreariness, the hopelessness. And that hope should encourage us to be willing to give our hearts to others. Maybe it’s toward your neighbor; maybe it’s toward a stranger; maybe it’s toward a friend; maybe it’s toward a family member. For many of us, this is all we can give. But it’s the giving of our hearts to others, as God freely did toward us, that helps transform us into the people God created us to be.

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One thought on “In the Bleak Midwinter

  1. Brian this is a great reminder and perspective-changer! I know that many people suffer from “seasonal affective disorder” (SAD) during our long, dark winters here. When we moved up (from sunny Southern California) with World Vision in 1995, there were about 300 of us who made the move. Nearly 200 moved back to California within a few years, unable to handle the “bleak.”

    Not me! God led us here, and we’ve always loved it here. But the gray and the drizzle and the long dark days do occasionally get old! There are a few things I’ve been helpful as I’ve confronted this:

    1) Being from a relatively dry state, I’ve always thought of “rain” as the blessings of God, pouring down on us. I think of Deut. 28:12 — “The Lord will open to you his good treasury, the heavens, to give the rain to your land in its season and to bless all the work of your hands. And you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow.” I frequently say, “Thank you, Lord, for the rain!” And up here, that means I’m thankful a lot of the time!

    2) It’s a little more challenging, but I’ve found you can also be thankful for the dark. There was a fascinating cover story in this month’s Christianity Today called “Lord of the Night.” It was written by a man who spent a long, dark winter at the McMurdo, the U.S. Antarctic Station. He expected this to be challenging, but his findings to the contrary are encapsulated in the article’s subtitle: “In God there is no darkness. But in darkness I saw God everywhere.” I’d encourage you to read it here, one of these long, dark wintry nights:

    Thank God for a hope that sustains us in the middle of the darkest night, and rainiest January!

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