Ms Rossetti’s Christmas carol

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It is the most absurd of carols,
“In the bleak midwinter” –
more so even than our acceptance
of the cosy, tranquil stable
and a baby that never cries.

“Snow had fallen, snow on snow”. No.
Snow on Christmas cards, may be,
the perfect backdrop,
white bedding
in which to plant the Christmas tree.

But in a little town called Bethlehem,
that desert city? Hardly.
And if there was – it’s not impossible –
there would have been, for pity’s sake,
no shepherds with their flocks by night.
The sheep, less silly than we think, would be by now
far removed from dangerous, rocky hillsides.

And who, we might well ask,
would the angels have sung to then?

What inconsistencies we play with,
what pictures we return to,
unquestioned, like the rituals
of cake, pudding and a glass of something special for Santa.

And yet she knew something of the world, Christina Georgina Rossetti,
where frosty wind made moan
and earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone.

Only now, as I walk the dog
(how mundane is that?)
on tough, ploughed and unforgiving fields,
and not on pavements
laid to make our walking easier
and hide the earth below,
do I understand the truth of Ms Rossetti’s poetry –

of a world, “hard as iron”,
into which Christ came
like Love
(as she also wrote)
to thaw, to melt, to heal,
to question who we are,
a plea, a gift, a sign.

Categories: Advent and Christmas, Worship Resources.

2 Responses to Ms Rossetti’s Christmas carol

  1. Eunice M Irvine says:

    I love “What inconsistencies we play with; what pictures we return to, unquestioned like the rituals of cake, pudding and a glass of something special for Santa!” When, oh when are preachers going to be bold enough to speak of the Christmas story as a legend and not fact? – a legend written to fulfil OT prophecies and to be a symbol, not a literal truth, of what Christ’s coming meant for the world.

  2. Judy Ford says:

    I see your point, but in fairness to Christina Rossetti, the only absurdity in this carol is the hardness of the winter. This is not the carol that says absurdly, ‘the Little Lord Jesus no crying he makes’ and it does not say that the lamb that that a hypothetical shepherd might bring was out on the hillside. It is internally consistent, even if based on a fallacy. I think that ‘Away in a Manger’ and ‘Once in Royal David’s City’ are far better candidates for the title “the most absurd of carols”. People in Victorian England could be forgiven for being unaware of the climate in rural Palestine; there is no excuse for not knowing how any baby, however divine, naturally behaves, or for forgetting that St Luke makes it clear in his gospel that Jesus did not “honour and obey” his mother throughout his “wondrous childhood”!

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