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 suffic...ed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.
Angels and archangels May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim Thronged the air;
But His mother only, In her maiden bliss,
Worshiped 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.
Christina Rosetti was the daughter of an Italian immigrant to England. She and her brother were involved in the world of art and literature. She never married, though by all accounts her beauty was quite stunning. A devout Anglican, Christina was engaged once to a Catholic who promised to convert. When he had second thoughts, however, se broke the engagement.
This poem – set to music 12 years after Rosetti’s death – is disarming in its simplicity. Powerful notions are presented in the starkest of images. “Snow on snow” shows the bleakness of the earth, which stands “hard as iron.” We see the angels “thronged” in the winter sky; we are then immediately transported to the stable, where Mary worships her beloved Son as any new mother would – with a kiss.
December 16. “Once in Royal David’s City” - Cecil Frances Alexander (1818-1895)
Once in royal David’s city Stood a lowly cattle shed,
Where a mother laid her baby, In a manger for His bed.
Mary was that mother mild, Jesus Christ her little child.
He came down to earth from heaven Who is God and Lord of all,
And His s...helter was a stable, And His cradle was a stall.
With the poor, and mean, and lowly Lived on earth, our Savior holy.
And through all His wondrous childhood He would honor and obey,
Love, and watch the lowly mother In whose gentle arms He lay.
Christian children all must be Mild, obedient, good as He.
For He is our childhood’s pattern: Day by day like us He grew;
He was little, weak, and helpless; Tears and smiles like us He knew;
And He feeleth for our sadness, And He shareth in our gladness.
And our eyes at last shall see Him, Through His own redeeming love;
For that child so ear and gentle Is our Lord in heav’n above;
And He leads His children on To the place where He is gone.
Not in that poor lowly stable, With the oxen standing round,
We shall see Him, but in heaven, Set at God’s right hand on high,
When like stars, His children crowned, All in white shall wait around.
Cecil Alexander wrote a series of hymns to teach children about the Apostles’ Creed. “All Things Bright and Beautiful” illustrated the first phrase of the Creed, about God the Father, “maker of heaven and earth.” This hymn teaches about the phrase “conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary.” Later, “There Is a Green Hill Far Away” was written for “suffered under Pontius Pilate…” Alexander had a knack for taking major biblical themes and boiling them down into four or six easy-to-understand lines.
She also had a heart for the “poor, and mean, and lowly.” She regularly visited the sick in the parish where her husband was pastor. She especially tended to the children.
Jesus our brother, strong and good,
Was humbly born in a stable rude;
And the friendly beasts around Him stood,
Jesus our brother, strong and good.
“I,” said the donkey, shaggy and brown,
“I carried His mother up hill and down;
I carried her safely to Bethlehem town,...
I,” said the donkey, shaggy and brown.
“I,” said the cow, all white and red,
“I gave Him my manger for His bed;
I gave Him my hay to pillow His head,
I,” said the cow, all white and rd.
“I,” said the sheep with the curly horn,
“I gave Him my wool for His blanket warm.
He word my coat on Christmas morn,
I,” said the sheep with the curly horn.
“I,” said the dove from rafters high,
“I cooed Him to sleep so He would not cry,
We cooed Him to sleep, my mate and I;
I,” said the dove from rafters high.
And every beast, by some good spell,
In the stable dark was glad to tell,
Of the gift He gave Emmanuel,
The gift He gave Emmanuel.
This Children’s Carol may go back as far as the 12th century. It is a meditation on the animals that may have been present at Jesus’ birth. What would each of them have given as a birthday gift to the Christ child?
We don’t know for sure that Joseph and Mary traveled on a donkey, but they might have. The Bible doesn’t say anything about cattle, though Jesus was laid in a manger, which was a feed bin for cattle. The shepherds were tending sheep, but did they bring them to see Jesus? Were there doves in the rafters? We don’t know.
But there is a biblical tradition of animals serving God. A donkey challenged Balaam to obey God, and ravens fed Elijah in the wild. A great fish swallowed Jonah whole and delivered him back to shore. The psalms speak freely of all creation joining in the praise of God, and Romans says that all things await their final redemption. The future of donkeys, cattle, sheep, and doves is somehow wrapped up with ours, and so they would have good reason to honor the Messiah’s birth.