The weather in Boston is positively balmy–sunny and 45 degrees. This, of course, reminds me of a poem:
A Christmas Caroll, sung to the King
in the Presence at White-Hall
by Robert Herrick
What sweeter musick can we bring,
Then a Caroll, for to sing
The Birth of this our heavenly King?
Awake the Voice! Awake the String!
I. Dark and dull night, flie hence away,
And give the honour to this Day,
That sees December turn’d to May.
2. If we may ask the reason, say;
The why, and wherefore all things here
Seem like the Spring-time of the yeere?
3. Why do’s the chilling Winters morne
Smile, like a field beset with corne?
Or smell, like to a Meade new-shorne,
Thus, on the sudden? 4. Come and see
The cause, why things thus fragrant be :
‘Tis He is borne, whose quickning Birth
Gives life and luster, publike mirth,
To Heaven, and the under-Earth.
We see Him come, and know him ours,
Who, with His Sun-shine, and His showers,
Turnes all the patient ground to flowers.
I. The Darling of the world is come,
And fit it is, we finde a roome
To welcome Him.
2. The nobler part
Of all the house here, is the heart,
Which we will give Him ; and bequeath
This Hollie, and this Ivie Wreath,
To do Him honour, who’s our King,
And Lord of all this Revelling.
Herrick, Robert. The Poems of Robert Herrick.
London: Oxford University Press, 1933, p.385-386.
At the risk of having to permanently surrender my music snob credentials, I confess to having fallen in love with this poem in John Rutter’s treacly setting, which you can hear here. It took me several rehearsals to be able to make it through the bit about the winter’s morn smiling and smelling like a meadow without choking up a little. In part, this is because I am deep-down quite pagan, and always tempted to love the creation more than the Creator, and in part it was because I once saw November turned to March, on the occasion of a particularly joy-filled birth.
When my daughter Louisa was born in late November of 1998, Philadelphia had nearly a week of crazy-warm temperatures. The day she was born, it was 70 degrees. When we brought her home from the hospital, the forsythia outside our front door, tricked by the false spring, was in full golden bloom. If you knew my Lulu, this would make perfect sense–she has always been an astonishingly joyful child, nourished by rich springs of delight (which, by the way, are also a constant source of puzzled wonder to her melancholic Scandinavian mama). Of course the world smiled in the place where she landed.
It seems to me that this, simply, is the miracle Christmas requires us to believe in–that the events on this earth are intimately known and influenced by the One who made the earth. That the weather down here matters, that matter matters to the One who breathes His Spirit into it in a thousand ways. We are asked to believe that this is true not just in the runaway imagination of poets, but in material, palpable reality. The virgin birth, a new star, nights as bright as day–if we believe these things, then we will also find it possible to believe that we, each of us, matter to our Creator. We will find it possible that he can influence the unpredictable weather of the human heart, a possibility beautifully envisioned by one of my favorite hymn texts by John Newton (also the author of the text ‘Amazing Grace’).
How Tedious and Tasteless the Hours
When Jesus I no longer I see
Sweet prospects, sweet birds and sweet flow’rs
Have all lost their sweetness to me;
The midsummer sun shines but dim
The fields strive in vain to look gay;
But when I am happy in Him
December’s as pleasant as May.
His name yields the richest perfume,
And sweeter than music his voice.
His presence disperses my gloom.
And makes all within me rejoice.
I should, were he always thus nigh
Have nothing to wish or to fear;
No mortal so happy as I,
My summer would last all the year.
Content with beholding his face,
My all to his pleasure resigned,
No changes of season or place
Would make any change in my mind.
While blessed with a sense of his love,
A palace a toy would appear;
And prisons would palaces prove,
If Jesus would dwell with me there.
Dear Lord, if indeed I am thine.
If thou art my sun and my song,
Say, why do I languish and pine,
And why are my winters so long?
O drive these dark clouds from my sky,
Thy soul-cheering presence restore;
Or take me to thee upon high,
Where winter and clouds are no more.
Merry Christmas to all of you!