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
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.
When I was a boy our family observed the Christian sabbath each and every Sunday in several ways. Most importantly we attended worship at our church in the morning. But it was not as simple as dragging ourselves out of bed and getting there. We dressed in our Sunday outfits, and my three brothers and I were expected to be on our best behavior. We participated in morning service that consisted of simple liturgy, hymns, prayers, and sermon. At specified times we observed the Lord’s Supper. Usually we also attended Sunday School. That evening we went back to church for the youth group meeting and the evening church service, which was more evangelistic in nature.
But it was more than just about worship. My mom always fixed a big family dinner for after church. It was the most delicious meal of the weak, and consisted of her best cooking. She served on our best tableware and we ate at the dining room table.
There were things we abstained from on Sunday. We didn’t go shopping unless absolutely necessary and didn’t go to movies. Sometimes on Sunday afternoon we would visit a relative, or one would come visit us. In the summertime this was a time for fun. Or we might go for an afternoon ride just to see the countryside, and maybe stop at an ice cream stand — this being an exception from the “do not shop” rule.
Understand that I’m not trying to set my family up as being an example of what sabbath observance should look like for a Christian. We live in a different secularized culture and the old ways will not necessarily work for us. And the observance of Sabbath isn’t to take on a new legalistic bent for followers of Jesus. In fact it is He who sanctifies and makes the Sabbath holy. Every Sunday, for the Christian, is a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. This alone makes it holy, and a weekly day of remembrance. So for the Christian this might take different forms.
Sabbath, for the Christian, is a day of witness. It is a day to make holy. It is a day rooted in the creative activity of God, and thus made holy by the act of creation itself.
2 And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. 3 So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation. (Genesis 2:1-3 NRSV)
So when we observe Sabbath, we are recognizing once again its hallowedness and its goodness. We are recognizing that earth itself is holy, good, and sacred. One of the ways that we might keep the Sabbath would be to abstain from violence and all its indications. Our culture at the present time is saturated in violence, terror, killing, and war of all kinds. It saturates the media. We have been taught to see violence as a way of resolving problems, or at least of containing them. A generation of American children now have been born into war and are aware of no other form of existence. Since 11 September 2001we have let fear gain the upper hand, and now see an enemy wherever we look. Carrying a gun has become an acceptable way of life. We have terroristic type attacks in schools, the street, movie theaters, and the mall. We do not feel safe in our own homes.
If we as Christians would rest from violence and shut it out as much as possible on the Christian Sabbath, it would help restore the Creator to a rightful place and become a witness to the world. We could forswear violence in our own lives, our speech, thoughts, and our entertainment. We could pray for peace, for love of neighbor, and the coming of God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in Heaven.
Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy.