Christmas Songbook Day 8: “In the Bleak Midwinter”

The Gettys make every song better.

This track is a bit of a Christmas deep cut these days. Most popular “holiday music” is focused on the traditions and memory-making and the joy of family and friends, and even our Christmas hymns are carols are more celebratory than contemplative. Today’s selection goes in the opposite direction: full of Nativity imagery, this song quietly focuses on the simplicity and humility of the Incarnation. It sounds most like “Silent Night”–a lullaby hummed over a slumbering newborn.

The song began life as a poem by Christina Rosetti, published in 1872, and was set to music about 30 years later by Gustav Holst (the composer most famous for The Planets). Even if most of the 5 verses are unfamiliar to you, you probably know the last one: “What can I give Him, poor as I am? / If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb; / If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part; / Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.

The second verse is my favorite, however, because it not only combines the transcendence and immanence of God, demonstrated in the Incarnation, but it also looks ahead from the first coming of Jesus to the second: “Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain; / Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign. / In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed / The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.” A beautiful tribute to the Eternal Son, who didn’t consider equality with the Father a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself of glory to take on the humble form of a servant.

I think I need to work this song into my musical rotation more often. Good, good stuff here.


Here’s one more version of it, for a slightly different flavor. The Getty’s are great, but I also dig this arrangement (though, interestingly, he changes “Almighty” to “Incarnate” in verse 2):

#ChristmasSongbook Day 1: “Silent Night”

From now until Christmas Day, I’ll be posting with a Christmas/Advent-themed song every day and some comments either about the song itself, or some memories associated with the song. If you have a favorite Christmas song that you’d like to request for the series, post that in the comments!


“Silent Night” is a staple at bedtime for my kids. For the last several months, they will ask for my wife and I to sing this with/over them before they go to bed. Sometimes this feels like a cruel joke, since literally nothing will be “calm” for the next rambunctious hour or so. But they love it, so I do too.

This song is also associated with two distinct memories/ideas in my head.

The first is the Silent Night Chapel in Frankenmuth, Michigan. Frankenmuth is home to the legendary Christmas store Bronner’s, the world’s largest Christmas decoration store (the total footprint of the store, parking lots, related buildings, and grounds covers 27 acres!). One of the notable features of Bronner’s is the Silent Night Chapel, a recreation of the original chapel in Salzburg, Austria, where the carol was first penned and sung. The Bronner’s version tells the story of the carol and is a delightful and reverent monument to this beautiful Christmas tradition.

The other recollection linked to this song in my mind is one of the most amazing war stories I’ve ever heard: the 1914 Christmas truce. On Christmas Eve 1914, in a bitter battlefield when there was a temporary pause in the hostilities, the British soldiers could hear their German counterparts singing “Silent Night,” and the difference in language could not mask the familiar tune. The Brits joined the song in English, and the two sides miraculously enacted a momentary ceasefire. Cautiously, on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, soldiers from each side came out of their trenches and met on No-Man’s-Land, shook hands, exchanged food and gifts, even played soccer together. This brief recognition of each other’s humanity wouldn’t last beyond the blessed day, but for that moment, there seemed truly to be peace on earth.

I read Stanley Weintraub’s short book on this amazing event, and would definitely recommend it if you are interested in hearing more details of that unexpectedly silent night.

This advertisement from the UK company Sainsbury’s seems to capture this event really well and is worth a look.

So there you go. “Silent Night.” May you seek the Lord Jesus, trust in Him for salvation today, and go to sleep tonight in heavenly peace.

See you tomorrow!