In the bleak midwinter, when the snow Lay tired and stained, its welcome overstayed, The mud still frozen, the foxes running slow and hungry, the mornings dark and grey, The radio carolling of peace on earth today while the frosty wind chills you to the bone. And o Emmanuel, why did you come into flesh? into cold, and chilblained toes, chapped hands, aching muscles, twisted knees, all the dissatisfactions of the weary traveller homesick for someone they've never been. In body and blood, you choose to enter in our secret workings - in hunger, in pain, in shame and guilt, in our tangled hearts, in the frosted breath and the pulse beneath the skin and to lead us halfway out of the dark.
About the poem
Somehow, this poem is a decade old. The winter of 2010/2011 was brutally cold, especially in a house with a rubbish heating system, and especially, somehow, because I’d graduated in the middle of a recession and was unemployed and living at home with my parents. Christmas is, of course, when we think about the birth of Christ, light coming into the world, the birth of hope for all mankind, all those wonderful symbolic things the Victorians loved promising in their carols. But Christmas is also incarnation. John’s gospel: “The word became flesh, and dwelt among us.” And that cold winter, it struck me as never before that God became flesh – flesh that gets cold, flesh that went hungry, flesh that threw up when it drank dirty water, flesh that stubbed its toe or banged its elbow on a doorframe. One of us soft, squishy, breakable human beings. And in so doing, made holy our own flesh and blood.
This is a year where physicality is complicated. We want to travel to places. We want to hug each other. We want to see each other in the flesh, not on the other side of a screen. And yet doing so risks pain, and fever, and breathlessness, and the inescapable reality of illness, and the gut-wrenching of grief. We always think of hope at Christmas. The Light Shines In The Dark, and The Dark Has Not Overcome It. But the incarnation – The Word Became Flesh, and Dwelt Among Us – means that even here, even this, even now, even everything, even if we’re ill, even if we’re grieving, even our desperation to be held by the people we love, all of these things are already known by God. And held, and loved, and hallowed.