in the bleak mid-winter

growing up, our church observed advent like lent, as a somber and penitential season.  we did not sing christmas carols at church at all until christmas eve.

that makes it sound like some kind of ultra-strict, repressive faith community--which it wasn't.  i didn't have to boycott prom or forgo pants or anything, but there was no congregational merriment to be had until december twenty-fourth on the dot.

i hated it.  all i wanted to do was sing "joy to the world" and instead we were stuck singing dirge-like advent carols.  of course, it didn't help that stores start piping in christmas music the day after halloween, so by the time christmas rolled around, i was sick to death of all the jessica simpson-style "holiday music" before i'd ever had the chance to sing true christmas carols to their intended Recipient.

g. bremer

"people look east" and "lo, how a rose ere blooming" were the two chief offenders, and they became something of a family joke.  the songs were played in that choppy, too-slow style that is impossible to sing along to, so when the pianist would strike the plaintive chords, my sister and i would dissolve into fits of giggles.

our church managed to butcher "o come, o come emmanuel," too.  we were allowed to sing that one because it was considered an advent hymn rather than a christmas carol, but i don't remember ever really singing the (powerful) verses.  instead, we all held hands and sung the brief refrain at the close of each pre-christmas service.

teenage me thought that was especially lame.

these advent hymns left me with a bad taste.  i know now that the goal was to emphasize the waiting and anticipation of the advent of Christ's coming, but to me, they were fun-squelching and old-fashioned.  i never paid attention to the words until much more recently, and since then i've had a change of heart.

the verses that once fueled my teenage indignation i now count among my most cherished.

prophesy.  longing.  poetry and promise.  rich, beautiful imagery. the hope and scope of the gospel in a few stanzas.

the very essence of christmas.

Lo, how a rose e'er blooming,
From tender stem hath sprung!
From Jesse’s lineage coming,
As men of old have sung.

It came, a floweret bright,
Amid the cold of winter
When half spent was the night
Isaiah 'twas foretold it,
The Rose I have in mind
With Mary we behold it,
The Virgin mother kind
To show God's love aright,
She bore to us a Savior
When half spent was the night
This Flower, whose fragrance tender
With sweetness fills the air,
Dispels with glorious splendor
The darkness everywhere;

True man, yet very God,
From Sin and death he saves us,
And lightens every load

In the bleak mid-winter
  Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
  Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
  Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
  Long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him
  Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
  When He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
  A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty,
  Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, whom cherubim
  Worship night and day,
A breastful of milk
  And a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels
  Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
  Which adore.

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.


O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death's dark shadows put to flight!
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
O come, Desire of nations, bind
All peoples in one heart and mind;

Bid envy, strife and quarrels cease;
Fill the whole world with heaven’s peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Photobucketlinking up at the Bigger Picture Blogs and their prompt "hymn."

what are your favorite christmas carols or songs?
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