Abide with Me

By Daniel Hazel

The Christmas season is, to borrow the cliché, the most wonderful time of the year. It is filled with opportunities for families to reunite. It is a chance to break out of the drudgery of our everyday routine. The Advent season is a time when we are reminded of hope, joy, peace, and love, and that Christ is Emmanuel—God with us.

christmas-2919725_1280Christmas can also be difficult. It can be hard to feel welcome to express anything other than joy and happiness. Whether due to financial troubles, the death of a loved one (recent or long past), or something else entirely, the holidays can be discouraging and challenging. It can be hard to feel like Christ is with us.

I write this in the midst of the death of my grandmother. During this time, it is hard to find language for grief. It’s Christmas time, and Christ’s birth is on everyone’s mind, but the pain is real. However, the hymn “Abide with Me,” written by Henry Francis Lyte in 1847, provides helpful words. I love this sobering hymn with deep passages. It is a beautiful poem and has a wonderful tune. It was actually written and revised at the threshold of Lyte’s death. While this hymn is most often used in the church calendar around Lent or Pentecost, I believe it also has a place during Advent and Christmas time. It invites the worshiper to express hurt.

(The Brigham Young University’s men choir preformance of Abide with Me is a beautiful arrangement which allows for meditating on the lyrics and allows the listener to freely contemplate.)

“Abide with Me”

Verse 1
Abide with me, fast falls the eventide
The darkness deepens Lord, with me abide
When other helpers fail and comforts flee
Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me.

Verse 2
Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day
Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away
Change and decay in all around I see
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.

Verse 3
I need your presence every passing hour
What but your grace can foil the tempter’s power?
Who like yourself my guide and strength can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, O abide with me.

Verse 4
I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness
Where is death’s sting?
Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.

Verse 5
Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies
Haven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee
In life, in death, o Lord, abide with me.

Lyte writes for an occasion like a family’s first gathering after hardship. It has given candle-2905395_1280language for grief as my family works through the death of my grandmother, and speaks to anyone who has painful memories or difficult situations arise during the holidays. No matter what is happening for you this Christmas, Lyte’s words can speak to you.

Take, for example, “Change and decay in all around I see; O Thou, who changest not, abide with me!” It is a line that is entirely destitute. There have been many times in my life when I realized that everything was different. The passing of my grandmother has certainly been one of them. It has affected everyone in the family, it has changed family dynamics, and it can be a hard reality to grasp, but a reality we have to come to terms with eventually.

The words, “The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide!” is a cry for help amongst grief and pain. It is a cry to feel the presence of God. Even if you aren’t dealing with having financial struggles, hurt among family, or a family member’s death, the holidays and Christmas is a busy time, and it can be hard to know and feel the presence of God. The hymn is a constant prayer for the Divine to be near and stand beside us.

What seems most important is how the hymn centers the singer with the Divine, and gives an assurance of faith. At the end of verse 3, Lyte writes, “Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.” Even though we are surrounded by death, heartbreak, and sorrow, we have assurance through Christ, our Lord. Through darkness, tears, and hardship, Christ stays the same. Through light, joy, and good times, Christ abides with us.

About the Author

Daniel_Hazel_photoDaniel Hazel is the Worship and Creative Pastor at First Christian Church in Aurora, Ill., where he lives with his wife, Emma, and their cat, Maisy. They enjoy reading together and escaping the city by taking day trips to hike and explore. To see too many pictures of their cat, you can find Daniel on Instagram at daniel.hazel and on Twitter at _daniel_hazel_

Image credits: pixabay.com

Gold, Myrrh, and Brokenness

By Mitch Stutzman
christmas-1333798_1280
The United States Thanksgiving holiday is behind us. Pumpkins, gourds, and
falldécor are being replaced with holiday wreaths, evergreen trees, and twinkling lights. In addition to the changing of holiday decorations and the increase in holiday specials on television, some radio stations have begun playing Christmas music 24 hours a day.

I have always appreciated Christmas music. Growing up in a Mennonite Church, I enjoyed singing 4-part harmony from the section of the hymnbook dedicated to Christmas music. I was disappointed that we couldn’t spend more time singing from that section of the book. After all, the themes and stories that are told through our songs and hymns are applicable throughout the year.

The Christian hymn “What Child is This,” set to the traditional English melody piano-2706562_1280“Greensleeves,” is familiar to many. The text paints a picture of the traditional nativity that we may have on our mantle at home. A sleeping baby, his mother nearby, angels singing, shepherds gathered around, an assortment of barnyard animals, and gifts being brought to his bedside. It describes almost exactly the assortment of figures that sits in a place of prominence at my house this time of year.

The song and the scene that it presents has become so familiar to me; almost routine. This song was given new life for me in college during my church music class. During that class I was given an unfamiliar songbook with a purple cover. My professor invited the class to turn to #26, “Helpless and Hungry.”

Together we studied the text, written by Scott Soper. This song opened my eyes again to the miraculous birth of Jesus:

Helpless and hungry, lowly, afraid, wrapped in the chill of mid-winter;
comes now among us, born into poverty’s embrace, new life for the world.
Who is this who lives with the lowly, sharing their sorrows, knowing their hunger?
This is Christ, revealed to the world in the eyes of a child, a child of the poor.

Who is the stranger here in our midst, looking for shelter among us?
Who is the outcast? Who do we see amid the poor, the children of God?
Who is this who lives with the lowly, sharing their sorrows, knowing their hunger?
This is Christ, revealed to the world in the eyes of a child, a child of the poor.

Bring all the thirsty, all who seek peace; bring those with nothing to offer.
Strengthen the feeble, say to the frightened heart: “Fear not: Here is your God!”
Who is this who lives with the lowly, sharing their sorrows, knowing their hunger?
This is Christ, revealed to the world in the eyes of a child, a child of the poor.

After reading through the text, our professor led us in singing. The meter and tune of this new hymn can be layered perfectly on top of the familiar “What Child is This.” Our professor invited us to go back and forth between the two songs, singing a verse of one and then a verse of the other. In this way, these hymns worked in tandem; almost as a call and response.

For the third and final verse, the class was divided in half and was invited to sing both hymns simultaneously. While half of the class was singing about bring gifts of incense, gold, and myrrh, the other half of the class was singing about bringing all the thirsty, all who seek peace, and those who have nothing to offer. The juxtaposition that this posed, of bringing treasures along with our brokenness as a gift to our Savior, was a deeply moving experience.christmas-2914850_1280

This Christmas season, let us work to remember that while way may exchange gifts with one another, the gift that we have each already received came in the form of a child. A child to whom we offer our greatest treasures, our brokenness, and our pain.

Helpless and Hungry
Text and music by Scott Soper

Helpless and hungry, lowly, afraid, wrapped in the chill of mid-winter;
comes now among us, born into poverty’s embrace, new life for the world.
Who is this who lives with the lowly, sharing their sorrows, knowing their hunger?
This is Christ, revealed to the world in the eyes of a child, a child of the poor.

Who is the stranger here in our midst, looking for shelter among us?
Who is the outcast? Who do we see amid the poor, the children of God?
Who is this who lives with the lowly, sharing their sorrows, knowing their hunger?
This is Christ, revealed to the world in the eyes of a child, a child of the poor.

Bring all the thirsty, all who seek peace; bring those with nothing to offer.
Strengthen the feeble, say to the frightened heart: “Fear not: Here is your God!”
Who is this who lives with the lowly, sharing their sorrows, knowing their hunger?
This is Christ, revealed to the world in the eyes of a child, a child of the poor.

What Child is This
Text by William C. Dix

What Child is this, who, laid to rest, on Mary’s lap is sleeping,
whom angels greet with anthems sweet, while shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the King, whom shepherds guard and angels sing.
Haste, haste to bring him laud, the babe, the son of Mary!

Why lies he in such mean estate where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christian fear, for sinners here the silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spear shall pierce him through, the cross be borne for me, for you.
Hail, hail the Word-made-flesh, the babe, the son of Mary!

So bring him incense, gold, and myrrh, come, peasant, king, to own him.
The King of Kings salvation brings, let loving hearts enthrone him.
Raise, raise the song on high; the virgin sings her lullaby.
Joy, joy, for Christ is born, the babe, the son of Mary!

Layered text:

Helpless and hungry, lowly, afraid, wrapped in the chill of mid-winter;
comes now among us, born into poverty’s embrace, new life for the world.
Who is this who lives with the lowly, sharing their sorrows, knowing their hunger?
This is Christ, revealed to the world in the eyes of a child, a child of the poor.

What Child is this, who, laid to rest, on Mary’s lap is sleeping,
whom angels greet with anthems sweet, while shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the King, whom shepherds guard and angels sing.
Haste, haste to bring him laud, the babe, the son of Mary!

Who is the stranger here in our midst, looking for shelter among us?
Who is the outcast? Who do we see amid the poor, the children of God?
Who is this who lives with the lowly, sharing their sorrows, knowing their hunger?
This is Christ, revealed to the world in the eyes of a child, a child of the poor.

Why lies he in such mean estate where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christian fear, for sinners here the silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spear shall pierce him through, the cross be borne for me, for you.
Hail, hail the Word-made-flesh, the babe, the son of Mary!

Bring all the thirsty, all who seek peace; bring those with nothing to offer.
Strengthen the feeble, say to the frightened heart: “Fear not: Here is your God!”
Who is this who lives with the lowly, sharing their sorrows, knowing their hunger?
This is Christ, revealed to the world in the eyes of a child, a child of the poor.

So bring him incense, gold, and myrrh, come, peasant, king, to own him.
The King of Kings salvation brings, let loving hearts enthrone him.
Raise, raise the song on high; the virgin sings her lullaby.
Joy, joy, for Christ is born, the babe, the son of Mary.

About the Author

Stutzman-Mitch_7580-2CMYKMitch Stutzman is the Stewardship Consultant for Everence, a faith-based financial services company of Mennonite Church USA, which serves all who are interested in integrating their faith with their finances.

Image credits: pixabay.com