Tired and weary seem to be the words I hear most often these days. People are weary of trouble, weary of isolation, weary of 2020.
A favorite for many, the classic Christmas carol “O Holy Night” calls a “weary world” to rejoice, but we wonder, is it possible to rejoice when the year has brought pain and trouble, and to some, even searing loss?
N.T. Wright points out that Matthew’s account of the birth of the Prince of Peace draws from Jeremiah 31:15, a passage he notes is about “God’s renewal of the covenant, bringing Israel back from exile at last.” In other words, Wright says, “Rescue is on the way.” [In Matthew for Everyone, Part One]
The heart and essence of incarnation – mere incarnation, if you will – is about God coming to us, the broken, lost, and discouraged and bringing to us God’s personal presence in a startling, wonderful way.
‘The Angel in the Cell’
Elizabeth Elliot writes of a prisoner in a foreign country who was repeatedly and mercilessly tortured. His sole comfort in his squalid conditions was a blanket. Torture came yet again, and he longed for the comfort of his blanket. To his dismay, Elliot writes, the man found someone else wrapped up in his blanket when he was returned to his cell.
Finally broken, the man fell to the filthy floor and cried out, “I can’t take any more!”
The intruder then said to him, “Have you forgotten that Jesus is with you?” and promptly vanished.
The weary, beaten prisoner understood and lept for joy. The next day, the guard who had abused him demanded to know why his demeanor had changed so dramatically, why he was happy.
“Because my Lord was with me last night,” the prisoner replied. Even as the guard threatened death, the prisoner’s joy was not abated. His spirit unbroken, the prisoner was soon released.
Students of apologetics learn quickly that the Christian worldview should not be singled out as the only worldview that must provide a satisfying answer for the suffering in this world. Any worldview—atheism, naturalism, Buddhism, etc.—that claims to be true must explain why suffering exists and do so in a way that satisfies the human heart as well as the human mind.
In Buddhism, suffering is an illusion. In naturalism, suffering simply is. Only the Christian faith and worldview holds to a God who is present with us no matter how deep our pain or how desperate our circumstances. No other religion or worldview offers this.
David Jeremiah, author and pastor, experienced this as he walked through cancer treatments years ago and turned to the Psalms for comfort. “If there is a single great message here, it is that our pain is real, but God’s presence is just as real.”
Emmanuel means God with us.
Scripture does not give a complete answer for life’s suffering, but it makes it clear that the incarnation changes everything when it comes to the question of pain. As the authors of Truth in a Culture of Doubt write, the incarnation provides “a powerful resource in response to the existential problem of evil.”
While answers for suffering may not come, rest and comfort can come as the almighty, merciful God walks with us.
N.T. Wright reminds us that the Advent occurred at a time when the world faced “trouble, tension, violence and fear.” He writes:
Banish all thoughts of peaceful Christmas scenes. Before the Prince of Peace had learned to walk and talk, he was a homeless refugee with a price on his head … No point in arriving in comfort, when the world is in misery; no point having an easy life, when the world suffers violence and injustice! If he is to be Emmanuel, God-with-us, he must be with us where the pain is. [p. 14-15, Matthew for Everyone, Part One.]
This is the Gospel message for our weary world. What joy this should bring to us, God’s people. God is with us no matter how dark the trial.
This is the message of Christmas.
** See Elizabeth Eliot’s Keep a Quiet Heart; N. T. Wright’s Matthew for Everyone, Part One; and David Jeremiah’s When Your World Falls Apart.