You probably know that song. It has a haunting melody and beautiful words. And it fits so exactly with the message of my favorite holiday.
In the bleak midwinter
Frosty winds made moan
Earth stood hard as iron
Water like a stone.
Snow had fallen, snow on snow
Snow on snow on snow
In the bleak midwinter
Long, long ago.
The thing is, Christmas isn't about the easy times, the wealthy, healthy years of plenty. Most of the world never sees those times, anyway. How many millions of people live and die without the serenity of knowing there will be enough food, enough shelter for their children? We Americans can be lulled into thinking our first world existence is normal and available to all. But it isn't. And the wasteland of need sometimes has nothing to do what we own, anyway. It can also be a poverty of the spirit for those who grieve, for those who suffer at the hands of others, or as a result of illness or loneliness.
In Jesus Christ Superstar, Judas is angry that God put Jesus into the middle of a world with no mass communication, no political calm that would have let his ministry spread without bloodshed. Judas is a very sympathetic character in that play, and that is an unusual twist for many who love to blame Judas. In this play, though, Judas tries every way to figure out how to spare the Jews from Roman wrath, and the only way he can think of to do that out is to have Jesus killed. The Roman occupation was a heavy load for Isreal. The earth stood hard as iron. Water like a stone.
Today is no different. The bleakness of winter lays over our world in war, poverty, oppression, unrest, disease...our earth stands hard as iron. The winter has a grip on every child who is bullied, every tormented soul who can't face another day, every leader who turns a blind eye to the need of the people. Let our hearts not be that hard, as well. Let the hope of love give light. Jesus was love incarnate, and we can be a part of that only if we are willing to let down our guard, give up our own hard-hardheartedness and look at every human as a child of God. That has less to do with religion than with compassion. It has nothing to do with insisting others believe as we do to be acceptable. It has zero to do with politics. It has everything to do with the gospel. Love is, truly, all we need. The Beatles had that right. If love prevails, we all win. It is the only light that can melt this winter that holds the world hostage to its own failings.
I don't recall Jesus ever exhorting us to give each other lavish gifts. Or to build lavish altars, or to hoard our blessings under the delusion they belong to us. In the bleak midwinter of Roman rule, a baby was born who grew up to tell the world that God's love does not belong to one race or one religion or one gender or the current group in power. God's love is broader, bolder, keener, further beyond our ken than any human love can be. We can tap into it, though. We can channel it. There is hope. Whatever we give to the neediest people, to anyone, we have given back to God. That is the warming power that can break the iron grip of winter on the earth. Compassion is the spring, the thaw.
What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would give a lamb.
If I were a wise man, I would do my part,
What can I give him? Give him my heart.