Are you tired tonight? For many, the holiday season can be exhausting under the best of circumstances. All the gatherings, concerts, parties, gift buying, decorating, cooking, cleaning, responsibilities, obligations…we don’t say no easily enough, and we struggle with guilt on the rare occasions we manage to set boundaries. It can make everyone weary. But for those of us who have gathered together in grief tonight, the word “tired” is a whole different can of worms, am I right?
We are a rag-tag group of battle-worn, struggling pilgrims. We don’t sleep well many nights. Sometimes all we want to do is sleep. We can’t always eat enough. Sometimes we can’t stop eating. We cry until we fear we are going to drown in our own sorrow, and then we get lost in the emptiness that no words can even begin to describe. We don’t want to be with other people, but we don’t want to be alone. We are terrified that no one can understand the depth of this pain, and we are afraid that our fear indicates a lack of faith. We doubt, and we berate ourselves for our doubt. Whatever loss dumped us in this dark valley – be it the death of the person we can’t live without (and now do), be it the diagnosis we couldn’t face (and now must), be it the breaking of the marriage we thought unbreakable (and now mourn), be it the loss of our job, our home, our pet, our hope… whatever the loss, we are in turn LOST.
We are tired…bone weary, soul deep exhausted. And this beautiful and sacred holiday season often just adds to our weariness. It is hard to maintain appearances, to put up the Christmas tree, to come to church cleaned up on Sundays and exchange Merry Christmas’s with those around you, to buy gifts, attend parties, sing and celebrate, and generally pretend that you are ok. Tonight, let’s agree to drop that. Let’s allow ourselves to be ok with not being ok.
So in the spirit of being honest about not being ok… is there anything in this sacred season that is for us, the broken and weary grievers? Sometimes it doesn’t feel that way, does it? It feels like everyone around us is merry and bright, and we are not…
But there is something here for us.
It’s not the jolly songs or the Santa Clause on the corner or the mad gift buying rush…No, that isn’t for us this year. Instead it’s the hope at the heart of this madness, the stillness at the heart of the chaos. Because underneath all the holiday trappings, my friends, there is a Savior. There is a little one, a baby born so long ago in blood, sweat and tears, a helpless newborn the angels announced…the One we know as Immanuel, God with us. That baby grew to be a man who knew sorrow and loss, a man who knew the very worst the world could offer, a man who stands at the heart of our scripture from Matthew and says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden (that’s us), and I will give you REST.”
REST. Breathe that in, my friends. Doesn’t that strike deep in your soul?
That’s what is here for us in this holy season… it’s not a promise that our pain will stop or our losses will be restored… but it is a promise that in the midst of our blackest night, in the midst of our wailing, there is a peace that can be trusted. There is stillness and rest for our souls. There is enough strength to hold on. There is a promise that because Immanuel came so long ago, because Immanuel comes still, because even death could not stop Immanuel, because Immanuel is here with us even at this very moment – we find rest for our souls and light in the darkness.
And my friends, be assured that this light is a light that NOTHING and No One can snuff out, a light that no loss can extinguish. Here is our rest, our light, our hope. Immanuel, God with us.
– Pastor Jen Herndon