In the bleak midwinter

Lines from the hymn “In the Bleak Midwinter” keep running through my mind this week. I can’t shake it. Maybe I shouldn’t even try. Christina Georgina Rossetti wrote the song in 1872. I have no idea what inspired the verses, or what was on her mind exactly. The lines and the tune both reflect a certain melancholia on the part of the respective authors. Rossetti just seemed to be of that disposition. And Gustav Holst, the writer of the tune entitled “Cranham” grew up with a number of physical conditions, that taken together would almost certainly lead one to some form of depression.

Although this winter is milder than some we’ve had in Indiana, the lines of the poem,

In the bleak mid-winter
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.

She’d transferred Christmas to a northern climate, which is fair, because Christmas must be real to all geography. And especially this year. Not much snow so far, but the bleakness of our season cannot be escaped, at least for many of us. In my almost 79 years of life the melancholy feel of this year refuses to let my mind have ease. And it is not only me, but for many of us. What has happened to the hope that we are called upon to have as followers of Jesus?

If I were preaching this Sunday (tomorrow) these verses would be bearing on my mind. I cannot help but wonder just what will take place this next year. How can the those who rule over us make even more ruin on an earth where hope seems to have vanished? Snow on snow? Maybe not, but despair piled on despair. How deep indeed?

Her next verse:

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign…

The season of Advent, and then Christmas itself point us not only to the immediate expectancy of His birth, but to His ultimate rule when all becomes new. For nothing can hold Him.

Our scripture lessons for tomorrow, especially about the Baptism of the Lord as told in Matthew 3:13-17 give us hope. The sacrament of baptism cannot be explained, except in a surface sort of way. It’s a mystery, even though many theologians of all persuasions attempt to argue otherwise, thus proving that they fail in understanding.

Baptism, like all sacramental practices, is at its heart a mystery.… [W]e must never see baptism as an isolated event, divorced from the story of our lives and from the drama of salvation among God’s people. When we submit to the waters of baptism, we are participating in something much bigger than ourselves. We are becoming part of a community and being initiated into a work that extends well beyond that moment

So writes Dr. Todd Edmondson of Milligan College in an essay entitled A Larger Story.”

Our hopelessness, then, is negated by faith. It submits to the community of faith that extends far beyond ourselves. Baptism, though mysterious, draws us as followers of Jesus into the reality of God’s rule, God’s hope, and God’s future for us and this earth.

In church we pray, each Sunday,

Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.