Christmas Eve 2020: My Winter Faith

My Winter Faith

See, amid the winter’s snow,
born for us on earth below,
see the tender Lamb appears,
promised from eternal years.

Lo, within a manger lies
He who built the starry skies;
He, who throned in height sublime,
sits amid the cherubim!

Sacred Infant, all divine,
what a tender love was Thine;
thus to come from highest bliss
down to such a world as this!

Hail! Thou ever-blessed morn!
Hail, redemption’s happy dawn!
Sing through all Jerusalem,
“Christ is born in Bethlehem.”

Author: Edward Caswell

“Winter faith” has been a key component of my spiritual formation. And I will be the first to admit that it’s not “biblical.”

All people are syncretists to some extent with regard to their faith. We have to be. We live in different times than the sacred texts of our faith represent. Historically, faith in Christ has been practiced in a multitude of settings, cultures and historical circumstances between those texts and us.

I unapologetically embrace, for example, my northern hemisphere geography and its climate and seasons as one of the primary aesthetics of my faith. Especially at this time of year. Simply put, I worship Christ in the context of the winter solstice. Christmas, for me, is a winter festival. So many of our Christmas traditions and hymns express this aesthetic that I think most of us in these climes simply take it for granted.

However, I don’t for a moment actually think that Jesus was born “amid the winter snow” as Edward Caswell’s glorious, moving hymn describes it. It was most likely not “in the bleak midwinter” when “frosty winds made moan.” Hundreds of the Christmas traditions that have been passed down to me from the northern European experience have nothing to do with the Palestinian narratives of Jesus’ context and birth.

Honestly, I don’t care.

I believe in the imagination of faith. I believe in the power of metaphor. I believe in the sacramental nature of creation. I believe in the trans-cultural applicability of the gospel. I believe that Jesus is Lord of all things in heaven and on earth.

I don’t believe he is offended at Christmas if I sing “Jesus Christ the Apple Tree” or find meaning in the legendary “Cherry Tree Carol.” I don’t think it matters if I put a star over the manger in my crèche or figures of three wise men at the scene. Or if I imagine Christ’s coming as light and warmth in the dark chill of winter. You can sprinkle it all with snow if you like.

It makes my seasonal worship richer if I see symbolism in the holly berry, the fallow landscape, and a silent starlit night scene of peace.

I am not saying that these things represent the meaning of Christmas worship. We have friends of this blog in the southern hemisphere where it is now summertime. If I lived somewhere like that, I would hope I’d be formed by a summer faith, with different metaphors and images illuminating my devotion.

But mine is a winter faith. And this is the night of the holy nativity.

Let’s light and lift our candles in the darkest, longest nights of the year.

Oh yes, and by all means let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

And then…

See, amid the winter’s snow,
born for us on earth below,
see the tender Lamb appears,
promised from eternal years.

• • •

Recommended viewing this Christmas:

Christmas at Luther 2020: For Everyone Born

19 thoughts on “Christmas Eve 2020: My Winter Faith

  1. Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
    “Now they are all on their knees,”
    An elder said as we sat in a flock
    By the embers in hearthside ease.

    We pictured the meek mild creatures where
    They dwelt in their strawy pen,
    Nor did it occur to one of us there
    To doubt they were kneeling then.

    So fair a fancy few would weave
    In these years! Yet, I feel,
    If someone said on Christmas Eve,
    “Come; see the oxen kneel

    “In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
    Our childhood used to know,”
    I should go with him in the gloom,
    Hoping it might be so.

    Thomas Hardy, “The Oxen”


  2. For me the winter solstice, cold winds and the imagination of a white Christmas
    Allows my faith in Christ to visualize His light in our lives as we place our trust in Him
    Makes me thank the Lord for His gift and His hope and beauty of the season


  3. I love the Praetorius mass for Christmas morning. The best Christmas music is both joyful and solemn.


  4. Hey to Susan in Australia,

    Hope your Christmas Eve is peaceful and blessed. I agree about the covid thing. Can’t wait ’till the vaccines are available for everyone everywhere. Even then, it will be still a time of vigilance. I’m trying to imagine a warm-weather Christmas, but my heart remembers so many Christmas snows. May next year be better for us all.


  5. –> “Honestly, I don’t care.”

    (sarcasm alert)

    Wait… what?!?!!? Don’t you know you have to FIGHT for TRUTH!?!?!?!

    (sarcasm off)

    Nice post, Sir Chaplain Mike. Beautifully understated, and a fitting “final” Christmas post here at the Internet Monk.


  6. I have a tradition where I listen to George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah” on Holy Week and the last week of Advent. Every time I listen to this masterpiece, I find something new to appreciate.

    There is beauty of putting the words of Holy Script to music with an orchestra and choir.

    There is a depth that I find that doesn’t exist in many of the Christmas carols that we sing today.


  7. “In the Bleak Midwinter” will always be one of my favorite Christmas carols. Its use of the imagery of snow and ice speaks the truth about my condition without the Incarnation of Christ. Really there is no “literal” way to express the truth of my need; for that truth to be expressed, metaphor, imaginative expression, and poetry are essential workers. “Literalism” is impotent in the face of the reality, as is fundamentalism. Only the imagination can handle the tough job.


  8. From the other ‘Aussie”

    Merry Christmas to all regardless of the weather conditions.
    I have only known hot Christmasses and can’t imagine snow on 25th Dec
    I wish us all the very best of wishes and blessings for this 2020 Christmas.
    Stay safe.There is a Covid enemy this Christmas from which we must all keep our distance.
    He lurkes more silent than Santa Claus. Don’t let him catch you.

    Go Peacefully,Go with God and His precious Son.


  9. Speaking as a reader from the southern hemisphere, I see Christmas as a festival of light, but in a different way than someone from the northern hemisphere would. For you, it is the promise of light in the darkness, for us it is a full and rich experience of light that has overcome the darkness.


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