We will gather during this Christmas season in a spirit of somber remembrance. While the rest of the world seems to celebrate the joyous occasion, we come to the manger realizing that the world is cold as stone, feelings of loneliness and loss overwhelm, and our heart cries out “help me be strong”. You will be invited not to hide or suppress those feelings, but embrace them, realizing that they bring you much closer to the real Christmas story. For this evening we remember the true story- a helpless babe born into a world that was struggling, a world that was questioning where was God, and a world crying out, “why?” The helpless babe born in cold stone room, without the joyous welcome we often picture. The helpless babe born in a family that was poor, tired, and frightened. The helpless babe who would change all this for the world. We will be reflecting on Matthew 11:28-30. Come All Who Are Weary
Come All Who Are Weary
Christmas is coming, people are gathering together in parties to celebrate, and there’ pressure to pretend that everything is OK, that you’re feeling the joy and spirit of the season, even though joy feels far away and the weight of the worries and stress of life, the losses and hurts of the past year are greater inside than anyone realizes, and all you want to do is be alone or with only a few close friends so understand what the past year, or two, or more have been like for you.
While Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus, the coming of God into the world as one of us, it wasn’t the easiest of times for Jesus’ parents. Joseph had to travel a distance to obey Caesar’s call for a census. He took his very pregnant wife Mary with him because she had become pregnant before they were completely married and so would have faced the scorn, gossip, and even persecution with her husband away. They were away from family and friends and all the support and encouragement that a first-time mother needs and then only able to find shelter in an animal shelter still be used for animals. In this story, there’s stress, loneliness, worry, and physical hardship, it’s not the beautiful scene we’ve grown up hearing.
For me, the reality of what Joseph and Mary were facing, something they would have shared with Jesus, helps me appreciate Jesus’ invitation to “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” It’s an invitation his parents would have wanted to hear as Jesus’ birth came close, an invitation to anyone who’s facing, or has gone through circumstances that have stretched them beyond what they believe they can handle on their own.
The scholar L. Richards writes, “The word picture is a beautiful one. The yoke of Jesus’ day was a fitted collar-like frame, shaped to rest on the neck and shoulders of two animals. Teamed together, the task was far easier for two oxen than for one. And if one were a young ox, how much easier to have an older, stronger companion to share the burden. To men who called for God’s King to reign over them, Jesus offered to be God’s Servant, yoked in harness with them.” In his invitation to come to him, Jesus is offering to share the weight of your burdens, to come alongside you so you don’t have to carry all your worries, your fears, your sorrows on your own, he’s willing to take much of it on himself. Jesus understands how hard life can be, he’s lived it out himself and so knows what you need to make it through your own circumstances.
Jesus understands grief, he knows tears, he experienced fear; this is why he has given us his Spirit, the comforter, the one who guides us and keeps pointing us back to Jesus. Jesus knows how heavy life can be. We’re all here for different reasons tonight. Holly Dickson Ramos writes, “Very soon it became apparent that “those who grieve” are not the only group of people who feel alienated and alone during the month of December. Of those you know well, including yourself, how many have experienced a recent loss? How many are overwhelmed by fresh waves of grief, though their loss may have happened many years ago? How many are struggling financially? How many are distressed by family pressures, breakdowns, or conflicts? How many are lonely, suffering from illness, disappointed or hurting in some unnamed way—and made more aware of all this by the season? Is your list getting long? The truth is that we all experience challenges like these in varying degrees at different times in our lives. We all need space for “lamentation.”
The Bible, and especially the Old Testament, is full of lamentation. Scripture doesn’t “sugar-coat” the human experience, nor does God ask his people to “turn that frown upside-down.” The psalms in particular set an example for us of how to bring every circumstance and emotion to the Father. The Bible’s prayers of lament echo the cries of our own hearts in times of distress, “Out of the depths we cry to you, O Lord!” “We’ve known affliction, wandering, bitterness and gall, and our souls are downcast!” “You have fed us with the bread of tears! Restore us!” “Our souls are overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death… if it is possible, take this cup from us!”
Jesus is both strong enough to help us carry our burdens, but he is also gentle and humble in heart and offers you his soul peace, his comfort and understanding, his healing and new hope. Christmas reminds us that the Light of the World has come to bring light into our darkness and hope into our weariness and sorry. May you experience the presence of the Holy Spirit, the strength of the Son, and the love of the Father this Christmas season and into the year ahead.