19. December 2012
Advent Midweek 3
We don’t always recognize the need for Christ’s presence. Sometimes it’s the daytime and things are “sunny.” In the artificial light of this world, the need for Christ can be ignored. Yet in the evening, in the darkness, in sickness, and in death… the statement “abide with me” resonates with us. In those times we need the abiding light of Christ. We need His gracious presence.
God’s presence and His grace are bound together. Grace is gift, taking us to bask in the light of the cross. Grace faces down the evil one, the tempter. The glorious grace of Christ crucified defeats the devil. Even when the sun shines and things are peachy, we still yearn for this grace, this light. There is still darkness within us and without in the world. Only Christ can banish that darkness.
The cross is God’s gracious, brilliant defeat of all our enemies. This life’s journey is full of stumbling blocks. Our heart is full of temptations to sin. We walk in danger of slipping all the way. Only the One who goes into the well-fought fight can end the warfare. He is our captain. He leads us through the darkness. He fights on our behalf. The only defeat of Satan is by Christ. He is the victor because he has already won at the cross. We who abide with Him already have the victory in Him.
The beauty of being in Christ is the receiving of His gifts. Every day with Christ is Christmas. We need to be with Him, to be in communion with Him. He gives us Himself. We share in His sufferings that we would also share in His glory. Sharing is giving. This is why we constantly go to church, to hear His word, and receive His body and blood. He is out in front of us in the battle. We know we will stumble and fall. We know we will lose the way. We are haunted by our sins, especially at night and near death. In His service, Christ gives precious treasures. We receive forgiveness. He heals us. He cleanses us. He takes us into Himself. He abides with us.
Jesus is the changeless one and thus His gifts abide. His light shines forever. The brightness of His mercy, forgiveness, blood shed, and what He does banishes the darkness. Not only does this light shine now but it has been shining since before the foundation of the world. The incarnation of Christ, a light shining in darkness, was always the plan of God for you. We are broken people dwelling in the blackness. Christ is the eternal light, brightening even the worst of life’s moments. The child born of Mary breaks through the darkness with everlasting light.
“Abide with Me” is a hymn about death and seeing the light that comes in Christ. It is in death where Christ abides with us. Christians have the capacity to see the sorrow of death and to mourn. There is a loss. Death is not the way God created it to be. Christ has transformed death by His death. It is no longer the end but the beginning. It is the entrance into the eternal reality.
Think of Pastor Henry Lyte and singing “Abide with Me” on the day of his farewell. He never made it to Italy for recuperation. He must have known he was dying. No doubt he suffered pains, tears, bitterness from TB. Even in his weakness, He sees Christ’s triumph. In his suffering, He sees the triumph of the cross. Even in death, he sees triumph. This the heart of the Gospel. The Christ must suffer then enter into His glory. Death has no sting. Grave has no victory. Pr. Lyte had the triumph of Christ even as he lay dying. So also for every saint of God. Death gives way to resurrection and eternal life.
Baptism is when we’re joined to the eternal one. We’re no longer living in a body that simply decays and dies. Our bodies are remade by the waters into what God intended us to be in the beginning. Our bodies are made like Christ’s body. We get death over with in Holy Baptism. That’s why we make the sign of cross upon the dying to remind them they already died at Baptism.
Baptism is when our life becomes part of the life of Christ. This is when Christ began to abide with us. Despite sin sticking to us, the reality is Christ is joined to us. He suffered for the sin we now commit. He forgives by the blood He shed at the cross.
The cross is the moment the heavens opened and light into the gloom. At Christ’s resurrection we see the dawn break and our eternal dwelling open up to us. First at the baptism of Jesus, then transfiguration, and finally at the resurrection this is revealed. Heaven is now on earth in the person of Jesus. The ultimate and final yearning of everyone is to commune with God. To be baptized into Christ. To abide with Him.
Our lives testify to everything but eternity. This hymn captures our emotions and feelings, those of reality. Fast falls the eventide. Other helpers fail and comforts flee. Change and decay all around I see. We long for the presence of Christ bodily. We hope in the friend of sinners, the helper of the helpless. Christ abides with you. In life. In death.
As Christmas approaches, we ask: why did Jesus become man? Why did he take on flesh? The answer? He would experience everything we experience. For those who are baptized in Christ, we know that everything we suffer He suffered. Every melancholy we have He had. His sadness is shared by us and ours with Him. He was lonely on the cross—why, my God, have you forsaken me? He experienced what it means to be human and yet without sin. Thus sinners who have no idea what it means to be whole and perfect learn as we abide in Him. He conquered loneliness, melancholy, and suffering by His life, suffering, and death. He gives us friendship, joy, patience, hope, and life.
To abide in Christ is to be fully human, to know what it’s like to be holy, to know what it means to be as God created us to be. To be joined to Christ in Holy Baptism is to share with Christ everything including suffering, darkness, evening sadness just as He shares with us every good gift. Jesus is in us and we in Him. In life and in death, it is Christ who abides with us. He is our deepest longing. He is our greatest hope. We have Him now in Baptism and in the Supper and we will have Him finally in the company of heaven.
In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church
Image courtesy of http://bearhollowcreations.blogspot.com/2010/04/road-to-emmaus.html