Thursday, December 17, 2015

Blue Christmas, Part III

Every year, the church I serve provides a "Blue Christmas" service.  "Blue Christmas" (or sometimes called "Longest Night") is a time of reflection and shared grieving during a season that is very often hostile to anything less than holly-jolly. 

My sermon was based off of Matthew 11:28-30:
Jesus said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”


I stared at my computer screen and my stomach churned.  Once again, I moved money from my savings over into my checking account.  I had to pay my mortgage, I had to pay rent, I had to pay my student loan, I had to pay for Gareth’s daycare, I had to pay for groceries….my expenses were exceeding my income and my savings account was slowly disappearing.  Then I realized that next month I’d have to dip into my son’s savings account and I felt like a failure.  I was a full time pastor with a good salary, but it was all too much; I was also a single mom paying a divorce lawyer with money I didn’t have and no hope of ever getting child support.  Every night I went to bed and I found it impossible to sleep; I couldn’t rest because the burdens I was shouldering by myself could never be put down.  I ran every morning but my anxieties chased after me with unwavering stamina.  I was so tired but rest was nowhere in sight.

Are you tired, my friends?  For all the purported joy of π season, many of us are wearing thin veneers of smiles over tightly pursed lips.  We zip from crisis to tragedy to responsibility to expectation and we wear our Christmas themed clothing like plate armor.  The jolliness is only skin deep, because inside we are churning, exhausted, unsure.

We are tired because our marriages are failing, have failed, are dead.
We are tired because our jobs are thin threads of accomplishment choked by bureaucracy and politicking.
We are tired because the ones we love are sick, are lost, are buried.
We are tired because liberty and justice doesn’t truly seem to be for all of us; just the ones with power.
We are tired because people in Paris die at concerts, in Syria while they sleep in their beds, in San Bernardino while they celebrate the holidays with their coworkers. 
We lie in our beds and our souls twist within us and we whisper pleadings into the dark of our bedrooms, “I just want to rest.”

To churn with worry is a heritage of our common humanity.  Our great-grandchildren will one day have cause to toss in their sleep as did our great-grandparents.  Even in Jesus’ day, the people were tired with worry and fear, burdened by an uncertain future.  His disciples had left behind the businesses they would inherit from their fathers; they uprooted their wives and children for a life of vagabond homelessness; they gambled that following Jesus would gain them power only to end up chased out of cities as insurgents.  Their faith systems piled rules and regulations upon each other, the Sabbath a day of fraught negotiation of the 600+ rules of how they should rightly live.  The people of Israel felt themselves pulled between the demands of the Roman empire and the demands of their temple and watched their lives fray in the tension.  They lay in their beds and their souls twisted within them and they whispered pleadings into the dark of their homes, “We just want to rest.”  

And then Jesus speaks.

To his exhausted, excited, confused, fearful disciples he spoke: “come to me, you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, I will give you rest.” Now to we here and all those in the world churning from life’s cruelties, he speaks: “I am gentle…[in me] you will find rest for your souls.”  Do we believe him?  It is for folks like us that Jesus was born in the first place.  The Prince of Peace for a world wracked by war.  The Hope of the Nations for people who had forgotten what hope felt like.  Living Joy amongst a people bowed under sorrow.  God’s love made manifest in the middle of those for whom hate had become the common language.   

But do we believe him?

Mary believed; though burdened in body by an unexpected pregnancy and the possibility of being stoned for adultery, she believed.  Jesus would give his people rest.  Joseph believed; though bewildered by fate that would make his firstborn child not of his own blood and the possibility of being murdered by Herod in the night, he believed.  In Jesus, people would find rest for their souls.   

But again I ask, do we believe him?

I can only speak for myself, friends.  And I can tell you that through every gut wrenching turn in my life, when everything failed, when I was left standing alone in the fragmented pieces of my former world, there really was rest in Jesus.  I could rest because I knew that God’s long plan for justice and inclusion couldn’t be screwed up by my prideful mistakes or fearful neglect.  I could rest because I knew that God’s love for me wasn’t conditioned upon my sexual availability or my willingness to hide my opinions.   I could rest because no matter how many parts of my identity turned out to be temporary, God could find me in my grief and remind me that everything I am rested in who God always will be.  I could rest because when the world grew dim with injustice and cruelty, love and goodness would flash brightly into view, a reminder that Love Will WIN.

Wherever you are rushing to in this season:
from job to job
from party to party
from hospital to hospital
from grief to grief

Jesus waits for you in the dark blue nights of your life and answers your whispered pleadings with crooning of his own: “Come here child.  You are weary, and your burdens are so heavy.  Come here child, I will give you rest.  Come here child, with me, you will find rest even for your soul.”  I know that you are tired, dear ones.  I know that the burdens of your life are real.  But with God, there is comfort; comfort of knowing you are enough; comfort in knowing the arc of the world is towards justice; comfort in knowing that God is with you whether you find yourself in valleys or on mountaintops.

Jesus waits for you in the azure of the night, waits to bring you comfort.

For any interested parties, here are the sermons from the last two years:

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