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 and right this minute. In the cold-blasted streets of Aleppo covered in stone and debris, the trash of a worn-out city where bombs had fallen, bomb on bomb. Families gone, huddled in boats, headed somewhere, anywhere. Hearts breaking like stone. In the bleak mid-winter. Today.
Syria is a complicated place to understand. It’s ancient and multi-cultured and there will never be a quick and easy solution. I don’t make any claims to understand it. But I understand the results of the situation. We can all look at the news footage of little children bleeding on the streets and their family crying out for help. Those of us of a certain age remember similar scenes of the children in Vietnam. It happened in Hiroshima, and in most every war before. We can understand why the families want to leave there, to get their children away from the horror of war and to a safe place. To Germany. To France, or Belgium. Or to America. And we know that some of those people fleeing Syria are angry and violent. We know that some of them are terrorists. We’ve seen their work in pictures, too. In France. In Turkey. In too many places.
“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,
—–Christina Rosetti, 1872
Many of us look at the Syrian children and feel torn between wanting to help them and wanting to make sure our own homes and families are safe from terrorism. And in the mean time, in the very very mean time—the war and the suffering goes on and the children bear the brunt of it. This has been our story all along. We shake our heads and send our prayers and in another generation, in another place, we’ll do the same thing again. Another Christmas Day will come and go and what city will be next year’s Aleppo? When we see another terror attack in a market, a mall, a church, or an airport?
Christ comes to us in the bleak mid-winter, as the poem says. He did that on purpose, of course. For it’s in that dark and hopeless time that we most need the Light of His coming. We need Him all the more when we can’t find the way, when our own hearts lack all hope and charity. When we don’t see a way to help suffering refugees and at the same time keep our own country safe. We have to find this path. We must. We’ll be held accountable for the suffering that we failed to ease.
The New Year lies before us as the refugee camps continue to swell with children, families, and yes, people intent on violent terror against us. As we raise our champagne toasts to 2017, somewhere a child is hungry and alone and somewhere a young man’s hardened heart plots an angry outrage. We are all in the bleak midwinter.
“Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”