I felt a bit overwhelmed this week so I sought solace from an old friend (or rather friends). Being the third week of Advent, I knew the focus at most local churches would be on Mary (represented by the pink candle in the Advent Wreath). Talk about a woman who overcame overwhelmingness!
I ventured to a church just down the hill from me (Crossroads UMC). It was good to see so many familiar faces. An island of calm and comfort amid my recent stormy seas. Halfway through the service, after the reading of the Magnificat (also known as the Song of Mary or the Canticle of Mary), I realized the absence of the regular pastor. Instead of what I’m sure would have been a sermon based on Luke 1:46-55, the Worship Leader gave a testimonial and short lesson (and an announcement to the congregation about his stepping back), followed by a video tour and teaching by Adam Hamilton of present day Bethlehem. After the video, another church member read the poem “The Soldier’s Night Before Christmas” (which he named ‘Standing Guard’ – Follow the link for the text of the poem and more information about it’s non-anonymous authorship).
The final hymn listed in the bulletin, sung just before the Benediction, happened to be one of my favorite carols. As usual, I could only sing the first three and a half verses. By the time I reached the line “But His mother only, in her maiden bliss, Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.” I could no longer sing for the tears. I whispered the final verse, blurred beyond readability, but indelibly etched upon my heart.
Words by Christina Rosetti (1872)
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,
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.