Like many people, I studied a fair amount of poetry in my literature class in high school. I wouldn’t consider myself a lover of poetry, and it’s not what I gravitate towards generally. But there are a few poems that capture my imagination and my heart in ways that have taught me to cherish the beauty that such life-giving words can bring. “All That Is Gold Does Not Glitter“ from Tolkien's Lord of the Rings is one. John Donne‘s “Death Be Not Proud" is another. And most recently, Gerard Manley Hopkins' poem "As Kingfishers Catch Fire" has taught me to see Jesus in those around me, in their eyes and in their actions.
Around Christmastime, the beautiful poem "In the Bleak Midwinter" by Christina Rossetti tends to occupy my imagination. It doesn't hurt that the plaintive but magnificent musical setting by Gustav Holst magnifies the beauty of the simple but powerful juxtaposition of heaven and earth. All of heaven finds its joy in and focus on a little child in a manger, and we're invited to come to the manger in awe and worship, too. Most people (I myself included) enjoy Rossetti's observation in the final stanza that the best gift we can give in response to God's amazing generosity is everything we are: our hearts. But what really caught my attention this year was the second to last verse:
"Angels and Archangels/May have gathered there,/Cherubim and seraphim/Thronged the air;/But only His Mother/In her maiden bliss/Worshipped the Beloved/With a kiss."
All the company of heaven leaned in to be close to the baby Savior, but the one who got to interact with him by kissing Him and loving Him in a very physical, human way was His mother. A mother's tender kiss on the cheek or forehead is a beautiful act of love even in normal circumstances. But in this case, Mary is also kissing the face of God Himself. Heaven touches earth, and earth responds.
My prayer for you, in this seemingly bleak midwinter, as we journey where God leads us, is that He would give you eyes to see where His presence, love, and care are breaking into this world. The Lord knows we need these reminders at a time like this. And He is faithful. He always provides. In fact, His abundance to us is so vast that it overflows from our lives into the lives of those around us. With eyes to see His working and arms open wide to receive His plan, you can respond the same way that Mary did to Gabriel's announcement that she would be the mother of God Himself: "I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38, ESV). So recognize God's presence and generosity to you this year, and let it overflow to others by your presence with them. In a tiny way, God's Spirit working in you will make heaven touch earth in the same way that Jesus received His mother's kisses and embrace.
Adventure is out there!