Saturday, 2 December 2017

Earth Stood Hard as Iron

Lettering by @rach_forsyth

If I had a penny for every time my former, more sarcastic (!) self rolled her  eyes at poor old Christina Rossetti over this carol, (and if I had some vague resemblance of culinary skill),  I would be able to make a lifetime’s supply of figgy puddings.

“Oh, snow had fallen snow on snow, had it?” I’d cry, “Yuletide in Bethlehem, was it!? Frosty wind made moan, did it?  Mary and Joseph warmed themselves with pumpkin lattes, did they?!”

I think a little differently now.

Just to be clear- I don’t think Mary and Joseph were a middle class Caucasian couple on the way to a frosty winter scene in Bethlehem, Yorkshire. But my older self, in this at least, is willing to give Tina the benefit of the doubt. Maybe it’s because I like to consider her a writer pal (in that we both write things down...) but I am willing to  allow for the possibility that she is writing in metaphor. I’ve heard that writers enjoy that kind of thing.

When Isaiah says, ““And they will look to the earth, but behold, distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish. And they will be thrust into thick darkness (Isaiah 8: 22) ” he’s speaking metaphorically. The land of Judah is not prone to bouts of thick darkness any more than it is inclined to laying beneath 18 layers of snow, but both metaphors are ways of describing the state of the world before Jesus comes.

I love Rossetti’s imagery because it  reminds me that Jesus came to a world that was hard and cold and impenetrable and bleak and bleak and bleak. But in the same way he brought light to darkness, he brought warmth to coldness. It reminds me that even now, he comes to situations and lives and hearts that are as hard as iron, and that his eyes are like flames of fire that melt and refine and warm and revive.

And it reminds me of the work he did in my heart.

I had heard the gospel several hundred times before I actually heard the gospel.

My heart stood heart as iron, my spirit was like a stone. I wanted to love God, but didn’t- and couldn’t.

In Paul’s words, I was dead in my sin. In Wesley’s words, “my imprisoned spirit lay fast bound in sin and nature’s night”. In Rossetti’s words, “snow had fallen- snow on snow, snow on snow.”

I was buried in winter.

It was nothing in me that brought about spring. God made his light shine in my heart and made his sun rise in my mind and the flames of joy blaze in a heart that had been solid ice.

To briefly depart from metaphor: I wouldn’t have loved the Jesus of the gospel unless he had revealed himself to me.

God did it! 

I had grown up in a Christian home, and had gone to church and to youth group and even read my Bible (angrily)- but none of that made it click. God still felt distant, unknowable;  my heart still felt cold, dead.

Why was it the 100th time I heard the gospel that I loved it, clung to it, heard Jesus calling out to me by name  in it? Why not the 1st, or the 18th, or the 99th, or the 555th!? Why was it that time that it caused my heart to ignite with a blaze of gratitude for God’s goodness, when so many times before it had remained frozen?

I don’t know- but I know that one time I heard it, and Jesus turned on the lights. One time, in the bleak midwinter, the sun came up. And it wasn’t my doing.  I’d sooner be able to dig myself out from under 18 layers of snow.

I was dead in my sin, but God made me alive with Christ.

God did it!

And that’s why I love the image at the beginning of this carol. It reminds me: in the bleak mid-winter- where I am powerless, helpless, desperate and dead-  Jesus comes. God does it!

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them light has shined.
Isaiah 9:2

The Light shines in the darkness.
John 1:5

Carol: In the Bleak Mid Winter


  1. Thanks for giving Tina the benefit of the doubt and using this carol to remind us of the wonderful truth that Jesus brings light to darkness!

  2. This is great you should do a devotional book.

  3. Praise the Lord! Thanks for redeeming this carol and making me kinder to Rossetti - but most especially for lifting my heart and helping me dwell on the light!


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