Advent season begins this Sunday (December 2, 2018). To prepare my heart for the Christ Child, I am listening to Christmas carols on an exquisite album called, O Holy Night: A Merton Christmas (Delphian, 2016), which features the Choir of Merton College at Oxford University. (Incidentally, J.R.R. Tolkien was Merton Professor of English Language and Literature from 1945 to 1959). This album includes two of my favorite songs because of their imagery and lyricism: the 18th century song “Jesus Christ the Apple Tree” by composer Elizabeth Poston and the 19th century song “In the Bleak Mid-Winter” by poet Christina Rossetti. Read the lyrics while watching a video of both songs performed by King’s College Choir, Cambridge University.
Jesus Christ the Apple Tree
The tree of life my soul hath seen,
Laden with fruit, and always green:
The trees of nature fruitless be
Compared with Christ the apple tree.
His beauty doth all things excel:
By faith I know, but ne’er can tell
The glory which I now can see
In Jesus Christ the apple tree.
For happiness I long have sought,
And pleasure dearly I have bought:
I missed of all: but now I see
’Tis found in Christ the apple tree.
I’m weary with my former toil,
Here I will sit and rest awhile:
Under the shadow I will be
Of Jesus Christ the apple tree.
This fruit doth make my soul to thrive,
It keeps my dying faith alive;
Which makes my soul in haste to be
With Jesus Christ the apple tree.
In the Bleak Mid-Winter
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 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.
Enough for Him, whom cherubim, worship night and day,
Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.
Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped 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: give my heart.