John Milton's poem “On the Morning of Christ's Nativity” was written for Christmas 1629, when Milton was only twenty-one and just deciding that he would serve God and his countrymen as a poet. Most of the poem is a hymn offered to the “infant God” through the poet's Muse, who will hasten to present it to the Christ child before the Wise Men arrive with their gifts. The hymn—twenty-seven eight-line stanzas—tells the story of Christ's birth, beginning with a description of winter that recalls the Puritan belief that the expulsion of man from the Garden of Eden (the Fall) resulted in the fall of Nature also. Nature is hiding her “foul deformities” behind white snow that makes a pretense of innocence, reminding us that all of creation was waiting for the birth of Christ the redeemer. Even the sun hid before the greater glory and light of God made manifest on earth. The first few stanzas also praise God for sending peace to the earth on this special morning, a peace that was known to have reigned in the Roman Empire at that time. Drawing on the Pastoral convention of classical poetry, in which shepherds lived and sang in an ideal, prelapsarian world, the hymn suggests that the coming of Christ meant the promise of a return to a perfect state through his redemptive grace. The shepherds hear heavenly music, normally out of the reach of mortal ears, and Nature too hears the harmony of the music and interprets it as ushering in a new age in which heaven and earth will once again be united. Truth, Justice, and Mercy will replace Sin and Vanity, even Hell itself, through the redeeming power of Christ.
In stanza sixteen Milton moves away from this vision of the Garden of Eden restored. No, he says, the crucifixion and the Day of Judgment are still to come, and Christ's birthday is celebrated as the beginning of a new era in which the old pagan beliefs are swept away by “the dreaded Infant's hand.”