For my Advent series this year, I am going through Christmas Carols and unpacking them, re-writing them in prose, hoping to pull out more of their meaning, theology, significance, and beauty. Here’s today’s source material.
I pray that God may give rest to all of you. Those of you that are tired and in need of rest, and yet you doggedly hold on to a soul-merriment and joy that cannot be taken from you. I pray he grants you rest and lets nothing steal your soul’s joy.
Especially in this season, I pray he strengthens that joy as you remember that he has come among us in Christ, our Savior, whose birth we celebrate during this time. We remember that he came as a human–but not just that. We remember he came as the weakest and most frail of human forms: one who is born.
But we don’t jut remember that he came, or even just how he came–but also, why.
This Advent season precedes Christmas as Lent precedes Easter–it’s a time to meditate on the darkness, weight, and tension of this world. The darkness and power that drew us away from God as Home; the darkness from which we were saved. And in this, we are given that rest, comfort and joy.
Oh, that we might experience God’s good news of comfort and joy proclaimed from the rooftops of our lives! Just think of that: Comfort. And Joy.
And it was all accomplished through the Advent story: God among us–Emanuel–comes in a tangible place in time and space. A real historical city–Bethlehem–in a real historical nation–Israel. There, the Anointed One was born in humility to one for whom it seems there was no end to her obedience. Mary seems to have taken all of this–the scorn, the frustrating birth, the unknowing–all with confidence in her God. She seems to have taken it with comfort and joy.
But it wasn’t just her.
In the story, God seeks out the lowliest of lowly classes, sending a blessed angel to shepherds on a hill. He gives them not an inferior message or even a different one than the news heralded to Mary and us. God’s messenger gives them the same news and tidings: he speaks the name and place and authority of the child born. And he speaks over them the same message: comfort and joy.
But even when rest, comfort, and joy are extended to us by God, we experience shame, doubt, fear, and uncertainty. There’s a reason this birth and this shepherd appearance happens at night. There’s weight to all of this.
And yet, God’s angel commands the shepherds to not be afraid. This command, though, is not only concerning their fear of the angel or this message, but it’s a command that nothing would give them fear. One gets the sense that this moment was to prepare them for all of the their lives to come, and not just this evening. But what is the basis on which they should base this confidence? The Savior is born in the midst of the Miraculous. Natural laws have upended themselves for this cosmic moment.
And for what purpose? To invite God’s people to Himself, to trust Him, and to free them from the Darkness and Might that enslaves them to themselves. In other words: comfort and joy.
The shepherds hear the call. They feel the thrill of joy leap in their hearts, and they even leave their sheep in the midst of windy storms and rush to Bethlehem to see this Anointed Child. It was one of those fleeting moments where one has such absolute trust in God for their resources and livelihood they become joyously reckless with it. They risk their economic security, and for what?
Comfort and joy.
And they went to Bethlehem where Jesus was, and they found him, surrounded by animals on one side, and a praying, trusting mother on the other. Cattle and a scared pre-teen. These were the vestments in which the birth of God was clothed.
I turn again to my prayer for you: the weary, tired traveler. The modern shepherd.
You, who having heard these good tidings have sought out the Christ we celebrate this season. You who are tired of running, tired of hoping, tired of trusting. You who can’t seem to shake that little tiny seed of light and joy in your heart that sustains you–even when you want to abandon it, you cannot. You’ve seen the angel with the eyes of your heart, and you’ve heard it sing and proclaim that the dark whispers and quiet hauntings are not the truth. They are what you have been freed from. You shall not fear.
Yes, I turn my heart to you, weary traveler. And I pray. I pray for all of you.
I pray that you would turn your heart, even in your weariness, to sing praises to our Lord. I pray that this praise and joy might overflow into how you relate to others. I pray you see and feel their need and embrace them in their own weariness and need. In this season that is abused and missed by so many, I pray you slow down and are able to receive that and hear and feel and proclaim and know that most precious of gifts this Advent season:
Comfort and joy.
P.S. As a funny Post-Script, I later found out that the way in which I interpreted this song’s first lines is wrong (as is the way most of us read it). It’s an interesting read.
[image credit: Govaert Flink, “Angels Announcing Christ’s Birth to the Shepherds“]