Over the years I have come to enjoy the poetry of Christina Rossetti (1830-1894). Born the daughter of Gabriele Rossetti, an Italian poet and political refugee from Naples, her older brother, Gabriel Charles Dante, was also a known poet. Christina lived all of her life in London, never married though asked twice, and became afflicted with Graves’ Disease while still quite young. She devoted herself to caring for her mother and to religious writings.
One of her works, “In the Bleak Midwinter,” causes us to reflect upon the glory of the Incarnation. In this writing she imagines the blistery conditions surrounding the birth of Christ. Yet, in His coming, humble and poor though it be, the angels and archangels gathered in praise as His mother worshiped Him with a kiss. Then the shepherds and wise men came bringing their gifts, and in her mind, she wonders what she could give. Her conclusion was that she could give Him her heart.
But in this narrative of the Incarnation, another expression captured my attention: “Our God, heaven cannot hold Him.” When it was time for all of the Old Testament prophecies to be fulfilled (Isaiah 7:14; 9:6; Luke 24:44), heaven could not hold Him! When the fullness of time had come (Galatians 4:4), heaven could not hold Him! When it was time for the Son to do the Father’s will (Hebrews 10:5-7), heaven could not hold Him! When it was time for the Seed to come forth (Galatians 3:16), heaven could not hold Him! When it was time for a Savior to be born (Matthew 1:21), heaven could not hold Him! When it was time for the Word to become Flesh (John 1:14), heaven could not hold Him! When it was time to redeem those under the curse of the law (Galatians 4:5a), heaven could not hold Him! When it was time for grace and truth to be revealed (John 1:17; Titus 2:11), heaven could not hold Him! When it was time for the adoption of sons to take place (Galatians 4:5: Romans 8:15), heaven could not hold Him! When it was time for the eternal plan of redemption to be set in place (I Peter 1:18-21), heaven could not hold him!
Heaven could not hold Him! What amazing grace! But even more amazing is that when Christ’s work was finished, the grave could not hold Him! Hell could not hold Him. And when it was time to return to the Father, this enticing world could not hold Him! We should stand in awe of the Incarnation! If not for our sins, there would have been no need for the Incarnation! But because of our sins, heaven could not hold Him! It was never a choice in the mind of the triune Godhead. Heaven would willingly release the Son, and the Son would willingly go. The mission to provide a Savior for sinners, which was designed for success from the beginning, must be accomplished. God must become man in the form of a Servant, a Savior, and a Substitute. Paul in II Corinthians 8:9 gives us just one of many reasons why heaven could not hold Him: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.”
Such a gift of love should bring us to our knees in humble submission to the fact that through the Incarnation, Jesus Christ came to save sinners, and we are the objects of such love. Might the Incarnation lead us to the foot of the Cross, where we can receive full forgiveness as we repent of our sins, and by faith believe that Jesus Christ died, was buried and rose again on our behalf. Only then can we be assured that we have become His workmanship, and that such great salvation is not by our meritorious works (Ephesians 2:8-10).
Christina Rossetti’s lyric concludes by asking, “What can I give Him, poor as I am? Her prompt reply was, “I give Him my heart.” To give Him our heart is to give Him our life; a very appropriate gift in light of heaven’s gift. Heaven could not hold the Son from giving full obedience to the Father. Is there something holding you from giving such obedience?
In the bleak midwinter, 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 midwinter, long ago.
Our God, heaven cannot Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign;
In the bleak midwinter a stable place suffice
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.
Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshiped the Beloved with a kiss.
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: I give Him my heart.
–Maynard H. Belt