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CHRISTMAS HYMN: In the Bleak Midwinter

EDITOR’S NOTE: Modern hymn writer Keith Getty has written a series of essays, each focusing on a Christmas hymn or carol. This is the 10th of an 11-part series in Baptist Press.

NASHVILLE (BP) — This carol is the creation of two extraordinary artistic talents: English poet Christina Rosetti and German composer Gustav Holst, best known for composing the orchestral suite “The Planets.” For me, this melody is the most beautiful of all the Christmas carol melodies.

In the second verse of the carol, Rosetti explores the contrast of the reigning Lord of all heaven and earth becoming a man and being born in the humblest of circumstances.

Our God, heaven cannot hold Him

Nor earth sustain

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Heaven and earth shall flee away

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When He comes to reign

In the bleak mid-winter

A stable-place sufficed

The Lord God Almighty —

Jesus Christ

In fact, all the way through the original first four verses, Rosetti juxtaposes the divinity of Jesus with His humanity. And again, we are encouraged to look back in wonder at His birth as a baby 2,000 years ago, but also to look forward to the day when Jesus will come again and reign over the earth.

We sing this carol about half-way through the second half of our Christmas concerts. It’s always a special moment of devotion. Particularly when we come to the last verse:

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

It reminds us of the need not only to stand at the crib filled with wonder at the incarnation and adore our God who chose to take on the fragile frame of a human being; it also reminds us that we need to respond to do something with the revelation we have received. Our greatest act of worship is not in the gifts and abilities we might have that we can use for God’s glory, but in the simple and sometimes harder act of giving our hearts, our full selves, to Jesus in an act of surrender, allowing Him to use us as He wishes.

For our latest Christmas tour, we took the “Gloria” refrain from Antonin Dvorák’s “New World Symphony” and added in a chorus; it’s just delightful!

Gloria, Gloria! Now my eyes have seen

Soli Deo Gloria! He salvation brings

In the bleak midwinter I may go in peace

The wonderfully descriptive words and plaintive melody come together to make this a carol that can open our eyes to the eternal truth of the enduring humility and power of the Son of God.

About Keith & Kristyn Getty

Keith and Kristyn Getty are modern hymn writers whose compositions are sung the world over. For more information on Getty Music and the Sing! initiative, visit www.gettymusic.com.
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