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 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”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 language 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 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