Leading up to Christmas Day, I thought it would be good to look at 15 of the most popular carols (chosen by Classic FM listeners) and consider the content and what we can learn from them.
Today and tomorrow, we will be looking at In the Bleak Midwinter as both versions are in this chart. Today is a reflection based on IN THE BLEAK MIDWINTER (DARKE’S VERSION), number 4 in our chart of most popular carols.
In the bleak midwinter, 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 midwinter, 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 midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.
Enough for Him, whom cherubim, worship night and day,
A Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.
Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.
What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.
THE BLEAK MIDWINTER
"In the Bleak Midwinter" was written by the English poet Christina Rossetti in 1872. The carol is based on a poem by Rossetti titled "A Christmas Carol," which was published in January 1872. In 1906, the poem was set to music by Gustav Holst. In 1909, Harold Darke also wrote this version of the tune for the carol.
We are not sure as to the precise date and time of Jesus’ birth. It is unlikely that He was born in ‘the bleak midwinter’. Bethlehem has a Mediterranean climate, with hot, dry summers and mild, wet winters. Snow is relatively rare in Bethlehem, but it can occur on occasion, especially in the higher elevations of the surrounding hills.
That said, I like to think of the words of this carol in a poetic fashion. The lyrics are describing the bleak midwinter of this sinful world. C.S. Lewis wrote in "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" of the land of Narnia that "it always snows and is never Christmas." Our world is in a winter caused by sin. Jesus came into this dark world to bring light and life, and ultimately to bring about the "spring" of the eternal age when he comes again. The second verse uses these very moving words to speak of his coming to reign:
"Heaven and earth shall flee away when he comes to reign."
In the darkness of our lives, we can experience light and joy in Christ. How do we do this? Faith is the key. Faith sees the true nature of Jesus and His mission. By faith, the coldness of our hearts toward God has been thawed. We know God. We know His love. We know His presence. Yes, we remain in "The Bleak Midwinter" of this world, but through faith and by the Spirit, God's Kingdom is in us.
TAKE A MOMENT TO LISTEN TO THIS CAROL:
COMMUNITY GROUP NOTES AND STUDY
It might be good to begin with notices. Please share from this week’s Church News.
Hopefully, see you on Christmas Morning from 10:00-11:00.
There is no service on 1st January.
What has God been speaking to you about from your Bible reading recently?
3. Recap of Sunday's message - please share in your group
On Sunday we looked at what it means for Jesus to be Immanuel.
Please read Matthew 1:18-24
Matthew gives us three names or titles for Jesus:
Jesus - God Saves
Messiah - The anointed King
Immanuel - God with us
WHAT DOES IMMANUEL MEAN?
1. IMMANUEL - GOD WITH US IN THE PAST
Immanuel, which means 'God with us', refers to the belief that God, in the form of Jesus, came to Earth as a human being. This event, known as the incarnation, is celebrated during Christmas. The Chalcedonian Creed, a statement of Christian belief from the 5th century, affirms that Jesus had both a divine and human nature, without mixing or altering either.
Jesus’ divine and human natures are beautifully set in the carol, O Come All Ye Faithful:
‘God of God Light of light Lo He abhors not the virgin's womb Very God Begotten not created’
2. IMMANUEL MEANS: GOD WITH US IN THE PRESENT
In addition to Jesus' presence on Earth in the past, the term Immanuel also refers to Jesus' presence with us through the Holy Spirit in the present. He has promised:
“If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realise that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.” (John 14:15-121)
3. IMMANUEL IS THE PROMISE OF HIS FUTURE PRESENCE FILLING ALL THINGS
Finally, Immanuel speaks to the promise of Jesus' future return and the renewal of the Earth with God's glory. According to the book of Revelation, this will be a time when God dwells among people, wiping away all tears and pain, and creating a new heaven and earth."
‘Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”’ (Revelation 21:1-5)
i. Did you feel that God spoke to you from any particular aspect of Sunday's message?
ii. What does it mean for Jesus to be Immanuel?
ii. How can we ensure that we focus and help others to focus on Jesus being Immanuel during this Christmas season?
ii. How does the title Immanuel bring comfort and joy to us?
PRAYER AND SIV
SIV - Do you have any encouraging stories of sharing your faith?
SIV- Let's pray for those that God has put on our hearts.