Christina Rosetti’s poem, In the Bleak Midwinter, is a Christmas classic.
“In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan, Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone. . .”
As Advent begins and the first wintry weather sets in, those words come to mind. As I write, today is such a day — gusty wind, hard rain, fluid and not yet frozen like a stone, but cold and bleak nonetheless.
In the darkest nights of our year, and in the dark nights of our world’s present turmoil, it seems so wonderful, yet challenging, that hope appears in the guise of a baby born to the poor.
When we saw the news reports of tiny premature babies huddling together in bombed-out hospitals in Gaza, it seemed the baby Jesus lay there among them. And when some “preemies” were evacuated to medical care in Egypt, how can we not remember the little refugee who fled into Egypt with Mary and Joseph?
So much suffering in this world right now, so much sorrow. So many bad, despotic governments, so many refugees, so much climate catastrophe, so much divisiveness, so much terror, so much war.
Rosetti’s poem asks us, “What can I give him/poor as I am …” and ends by saying, “Give him my heart.”
And in the midst of brokenness, we bring a heart made joyful by his presence, despite this weary world. It’s up to us to decide how we might give our heart during Advent. We may need a plan.
A small daily journal might help. Keep it short and simple. A prayer offering each morning, a little commitment: I will do this one thing today to simplify my lifestyle to honor our Earth, and one thing today to bring joy to another.
Maybe it’s the season you put canvas bags in your car and begin the habit of using them instead of those disposable plastic bags. Maybe find the phone number of an old friend or an elderly relative and surprise them with a call.
Share Christmas cookies with a lonely neighbor. Give yourself a bonus point for letting your kids help. Start a bag and place one item cluttering your home into it each day. Bonus points for giving away something someone else can really use.
Write your pastor a note telling him what he’s done or said to inspire you this year. Find people to thank. Find people to gently and courteously nudge, perhaps toward more environmental activity — your congressman, perhaps, or even your bishop. Add some thanks.
Sit down for a quick coffee with a friend. Give yourself a bonus point if you’re at a coffee shop and you’ve brought your reusable coffee cup.
Add joy by not sniping at your spouse when you’re exasperated. Bonus point for giving him or her a hug instead.
Make Advent loving and fun, with your focus on Jesus. Write all those little accomplishments in your journal. Keep it meaningful. We’re all really busy right now, right? So go easy on yourself in these hard times. Remember that Christmas is all about joy, gratitude — and Jesus.
Pope Benedict XVI, writing in the first volume of his trilogy, “Jesus of Nazareth,” addressed the great question that the book would ask: “What did Jesus actually bring, if not world peace, universal prosperity and a better world? What has he brought? The answer is very simple: God. He has brought God.”
And always remember: God alone is enough.
“We are all meant to be mothers of God,” wrote the theologian Meister Eckhart, “for God is always needing to be born.”
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Effie Caldarola is a wife, mom and grandmother who received her master’s degree in pastoral ministry from Seattle University.