The Weary World Rejoices

I remember the day. We were newly married and living in a quaint New England seaside town. It was idyllic, surrounding us with red brick and hand-painted wooden signs above shop doors. The deep blue of the water mesmerized me.

It was a delightful summer day, and I decided to visit a local farm stand. It was so beautiful. Why would I waste such surroundings by driving? I would walk there. I’d get good exercise. I wouldn’t be pumping exhaust into the clear blue sky. I’d walk to get my local produce and carry my purchases on my back. I slipped a backpack onto my shoulders and set out—a young bride living an enchanted life, breathing deeply the salty air.

It was a bit longer than I’d anticipated. Once I left the cozy town streets and moved further away from the water, the day became hotter. I began to question the wisdom of my decision, but I pressed on—I was so close.

When I pushed open the wooden doors, I felt victorious. I remember buying berries that day and carefully stacking the containers in my backpack. Everything else is lost in my memory. The shopping and produce-selection a success, I set out for home, rejuvenated, with the bounce once more in my sure steps.

It didn’t last long. I’d naively underestimated how far it would be to walk two miles there and two miles back. I hadn’t accounted for the sun beating down on me as I walked along the road. I hadn’t factored in the weight of my fruit and vegetable-laden backpack, pulling at my shoulders. I (foolishly) hadn’t brought water. These I could have—and should have—accounted for. On top of it all, though, was the beginning of a sickness I hadn’t fully experienced or recognized the effects of, a sickness that would strip me of my energy and strength for the next year and a half. I didn’t know the debilitating sway it already had over me.

My steps slowed. My back ached. My mouth was dry and the back of my throat begged for water. My legs were leaden and muscles sloppy and aching with fatigue. My mind slowed and blurred, narrowing its focus to the effort it took to take one more step closer to home.

When I reached the brick streets once again, I was grateful. So close. When I rounded the last corner and saw the windows of our apartment, relief washed over me. I could make it the last block. My legs trembled as I climbed the stairs. By the time I turned the key in the lock and stepped into the apartment, my entire body shook from weariness. My eyes filled with tears as I poured a glass of water and collapsed onto the couch. I was home. And I rejoiced.

* * *

Do you know what it is to be weary, friend?

Perhaps you have experienced the weariness of body—that mind-numbing fatigue when you think you cannot go any further, when you must simply give up and sit down on the side of the road. Or perhaps it’s been a weariness of spirit—when discouragement, pain, and sadness darken thoughts and emotions and you can’t seem to muster the will to get out of bed, to smile, to hope.

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That word—weary—jumped out at me this year in the words of the Christmas carol, “O Holy Night.” A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices.

Oh the relief that comes when weariness is lifted. When you reach the end of a long journey you didn’t think you’d survive. When you can finally settle into rest. When your longing is satisfied. The rejoicing that comes is not the exuberant sort, with jumping up and down and screaming. The face of this rejoicing has heavy-lidded eyes and a smile made faint by fatigue—but its joy runs into the deepest parts of the soul.

This Christmas, we rejoice in the thrill of hope that infused a weary world. Our world is still weary, groaning under the effects of sin. We stumble along under the weight of conflict and sickness. We bear the yoke of death and pain. We are weary for redemption—and creation itself cries out with us.

But our hope has come. The Hope cradled in a manger. The Hope who lived, died, and rose again for our redemption. The Hope who will return again in glory. He is the Hope that dispels the clouds of our weariness. Who gives us rest. Who satisfies our longings. Who brings the end to the reign of sin and death and the beginning of the Kingdom of Life and Peace.

So, we rejoice. We treasure this thrill of hope. We keep it nestled in our weary hearts. For Christ our King has come.

Thanks be to God.

The Immediacy of Hope & Eyes to See (Simeon and Anna): Friday Morning Coffee #78

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation…” - Luke 2:29-30

How many days had Simeon waited to see this moment? How many prayers had he offered up before this one could burst forth in praise? How many hours had he spent in the temple, looking, watching, expectant before the great hope of his life was rewarded?

When I think of Simeon—and Anna, whose story appears immediately after his in Luke 2—I am challenged on two fronts. First, that they persevered in active, expectant hope. Second, that they recognized Jesus when he came.

Centuries had come and gone since the prophecies were made about the coming “consolation of Israel.” Centuries of men and women living and dying without seeing the promised Messiah. After hundreds of years, it would be easy to give up hope. It would be easy to rationalize away the promises, to doubt them, or at the very least to not waste your time standing on tiptoe for them to be fulfilled at any moment.

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In my experience, this sort of perseverant, expectant hope is difficult to maintain. As each day passes, with no sign of change, no hint that the following day will hold anything different, hope easily loses its immediacy. It grows quiet and still, and I sit down from weariness instead of standing at attention on the lookout.

But Simeon and Anna kept their posts as watchmen. (To be fair, there were other Jews and Jewish leaders at their time who did as well. Expectations for the Messiah ran high.) They stayed alert.

Alertness was not everything, though. Simeon and Anna had to recognize Jesus when he came. He came quietly—not with the pomp of kings but as a baby in the arms of a poor Hebrew girl. There was no fanfare as he entered the temple, no glory cloud descending in fire and smoke. He came helpless and small, dependent on his parents to offer the faithful sacrifices on his behalf. There was nothing remarkable about his arrival at the temple that day. He could have been anyone’s child. But Simeon and Anna had eyes to see, and they rejoiced at this One who would be the hope of the nations.

Today they are making me wonder—do I stand expectant and watching for God to appear in my life? Is my hope lively and attentive? Do I have eyes to see when He appears quietly in my ordinary, when He comes in ways and places I don’t expect? Do I recognize Him when He comes?

Lord, may it be so.


Waiting for the Second Advent

We talk a lot about waiting and expectation during Advent. It’s one of the season’s hallmarks. We remember the waiting of Israel for her Messiah, of the long expectation for God’s promises to be fulfilled. We sit with the longing.

I think of all those faithful who waited and longed and died without ever seeing the fulfillment of the Promise. They looked for one who would trample the serpent, who would bring blessing to the nations. They looked for a king to take David’s throne, for a savior from bondage. They looked for the return of God’s presence to his people, for the forgiveness of sin, for the coming Spirit poured out on all flesh. They waited. They looked. But they did not yet see.

Then it came - He came - in quiet humility. A fragile baby in the arms of a Hebrew peasant girl. The light of the world in obscurity. The King in a manger throne. Jesus, the Savior, God-with-us. Those who had eyes to see rejoiced in this day, rejoiced in this answer to the cries of the ages.

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As we reflect during Advent, it is typically of this first coming of Jesus. But historically, Advent has been a season to meditate also on Christ’s second coming - the Second Advent - that promised and hoped for arrival we have yet to see.

We also live in an age in which the faithful wait and long and die without seeing the fulfillment of the Promise. We live in a world in which babies die too soon and our bodies are afflicted with disease. We see wars ravage beautiful land and decimate the lives of families and vibrant cultures. We see the unjust unpunished, see evil rewarded, see wreckage in the wake of greed. We see hunger and poverty, loneliness and hatred, abuse and exploitation. We see the twisting of sin in our own hearts. We stand weeping at the sides of too many graves.

We sit with the longing. We wait. Our voices continue that cry of the ages: “How long, O Lord?”

But the Promise means we wait with expectation. We wait in the not-yet with faith tightly grasping the hope of what is to come.

One glorious day, we too will see the fulfillment of the promises, when our King comes once again. All of Heaven and Earth will be transformed. Sorrow and sickness and dying and pain will be no more. His Kingdom will come fully to earth as it is in Heaven - and of that Kingdom there shall be no end.

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.


Barren Elizabeth: Meditations on Hope

“But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.” - Luke 1:7

What a lifetime of sorrow there is in these verses. How long had it taken for Elizabeth and Zechariah's youthful innocence to fade, tarnished and battered by months and years of dashed hope?

Had they blamed each other? Had they blamed God? Was Elizabeth fearful, bracing herself for the day Zechariah would leave her to find someone who could give him a male heir?

What rituals and remedies did they try as they desperately grasped at slivers of hope?

How many stares and half-heard whispers reminded them of their shame? How many accusations pointed fingers at imagined sins that had closed her womb? How many prying meddlers poked at the oozing sore that was Elizabeth’s heart?

How many tears had Elizabeth cried? As she watched her sisters and cousins and friends have their children in succession? As she listened to their little voices, their playful laughter echo in her empty house? As she watched these children grow, these children have children of their own?

Had Elizabeth come, as Hannah had done, weeping before the Lord, praying for Him to remember her? Had she felt, as Rachel had, that she would die if she was not given a child?

Each month, she bled out the hope of a life within, watching dreams of a child seep from her body. She watched her body slowly wither with age, until it was finally dry, empty, barren, until all glimmers of hope that maybe someday something would change were gone.

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And yet. And yet in this place of decades-long waiting, in this fragile place in Elizabeth and Zechariah’s heart where all hope had faded, the Lord would appear. He would appear, and He would give them a son.

Is it any wonder that Zechariah had a lot of questions to ask when the angel came to announce this to him? Is it any wonder he gawked at the possibility? After so many years, is it surprising he was skeptical?

Is it any wonder that Elizabeth hid herself for five months, treasuring the moment she’d longed for over a lifetime, hiding herself from further spectacle?

Someone this week said that grief and hope are two sides of the same coin. It is our lack—the grief, the longing, the unanswered questions—that provides ground for our hope to stand. Hope stands in this barren wilderness, and it defiantly and faith-fully sees a garden, rich, fruitful, alive. Hope stands in burned out ruins and refuses to accept that blackened shell as the end of the story. Hope inspires praise when our hands are still empty and our hearts still broken. Hope remains expectant, ready and waiting when the Lord makes His appearance.

And appear He will, though it may be in the most unexpected, impossible, and incomprehensible of places. In the womb of a barren woman. In the womb of a virgin.

How Silently the Wondrous Gift is Given

I was talking with a friend a few weeks ago about the kingdom of God. “If an alien would arrive on the planet and look around to decide who was the King here, it certainly wouldn’t look like it’s Jesus,” she commented. I’ve been thinking about this statement a lot this Advent season.

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Perhaps I’ll (we’ll) never fully understand why God chooses to work the way He does. Why does He always seem to choose the quiet, hidden ways of working in the world?

“How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given,” we sing. And silent it was.

At Jesus’ first coming, He, the timeless God, broke into time to the moans of a woman in labor. Angels announced His arrival, but their message was heard by social outcasts who smelled ripe of animals. He, the rightful divine King of Israel, was welcomed by pagan wise men of other kingdoms and sought out to be murdered by his own.

He was the supposed-illegitimate son of a teenage peasant girl, who was newly married to a carpenter from the backwoods of a great empire. He was a child of a people who had been ruled and dominated by superpowers for centuries.

To anyone looking on, the baby boy Jesus in the manger was a nobody. But this simple Jewish boy was the Son of God, Israel’s Messiah, the Savior of the world, God veiled in human flesh.

At that first coming, He was hidden. But He was not invisible. He could be seen by those who were looking for him. He could be seen by those who were humble enough to receive him.

By Mary, willing to endure the shame and risk of an unmarried pregnancy, ready to be the servant of the Lord.

By Joseph, obedient to an angelic dream.

By the shepherds, who received the first news of Jesus’ birth and were His first missionaries.

By Simeon and Anna in the temple, who had waited long and faithfully for God’s promises to be fulfilled.

He still works this way—in faith as small as a mustard seed, in a treasure hidden in a field, in child-like trust. He chose—and chooses—disciples who are unworthy and ill-equipped and calls them to follow. He works now, quietly, often hidden…but not invisible.

Why does He choose this way? Is it to call us to deeper faith? Is it to not overwhelm us with His might? Is it because He knows our hearts must be won gently, with sacrifice, not with power and coercion? I don’t know.

But I do know that it calls me to humility, to remember that “He chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are” (1 Cor. 1:27-28).

It calls me to faith, to trust in His slow work, to look with eyes of faith to see where He’s working.

And it calls me to hope in that second coming, for the day when He will return and be seen by every eye. For the day when there will be no doubt who is King.