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.
This morning before anyone else was up (including the dog), I put on my headphones (I am a paying listener of Spotify) and listened to Carrie & Lowell. I’ve had Sufjan listed as a favorite, but had never listened to the totality of this album.
Sufjan Stevens’ music is immersed in the real hard stuff of life. Nothing is glossed. Nor is it in any way filled with Jesus talk. It flows from the messy overflow tempest of parental mental illness. But listen to the music and you will see that Jesus hasn’t forsaken, but in its totality becomes the music of life itself. Sufjan seems a tender and bruised soul, writing, playing, and singing — both injured and being healed. Out of it flows unadorned beauty.
This kind of music gives rise to hope, that out of the stories of life, new and realistic Christian music, and art of other sorts, will begin the birthing process, breaking through the hard capitalism of our culture.
In an article in The Atlantic entitled How Sufjan Stevens Subverts the Stigma of Christian Music he says
Logistically I suppose my process of making art is driven less by abstractions of faith or politics and more by practical theory: composition and balance and color,” said Stevens. “It’s not so much that faith influences us as it lives in us. In every circumstance (giving a speech or tying my shoes), I am living and moving and being. This absolves me from ever making the embarrassing effort to gratify God (and the church) by imposing religious content on anything I do.
Somehow Carrie & Lowell seems a good way of saying goodbye to 2015, and hello to the New Year.