“Come unto me, all ye who travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.” (Matthew 11:28)
These familiar words are found on page 332 of the Book of Common Prayer, the first set of the “comfortable words” and part of our Rite I Eucharistic Service. These words are, perhaps, not the first set of words you think of as you enter the season of Advent; as we see all the Christmas lights and shop decorations and drive around listening to Christmas carols; as we embrace the busy-ness and excitement of the season. But maybe these words should indeed be the first.
The season of Advent, in the secular world, has been denuded, taken from a positive to a negative. I lament it each year. On the outside, the weeks of December are not a season in and of themselves, but rather the nameless number of days rushing forward to Christmas. It has become a time to buy, buy, buy, worry, stress, and juggle plans and presents. Oh, it is lit with hope and the promise of “Christmas cheer,” but that light will be packed away on January 1st and that cheer will pass with the recycle bin.
Christians, since we are in the world, are not immune to this rush and fervor; we are, after all, most intimately acquainted with the tradition of receiving a wonderful gift on December 24th. It may be that people of faith are even more susceptible to the strain of the season precisely because we live in two worlds and are trying to balance the traditions and expectation of both. As a result, some people of faith have lost their excitement for the Christmas celebration, covering their fatigue under layers of busy-ness and their melancholia under the proclamation of “sage wisdom.”
“Come unto me, all ye who travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.”
But look again, weary people. Advent, not “the nameless number of days rushing forward to Christmas,” is filled to overflowing with presence—not presents! It is a time of double meaning, a celebration of the birth of Christ and anticipation the Second Coming. Our salvation is at hand! God’s promises are fulfilled! We worship Christ for the fact that in His first coming He came in humility as the baby born in Bethlehem—the infinite God-Man in the flesh, our Emmanuel. The Incarnation is the sign and symbol of Hope, the affirmation of divine intention and the consumption divine will—we are of infinite value and worth to God. Now that is a season to hang your hat on!
When we, at worship each Sunday, affirm the 3-fold truth of our Christian identity: “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again,” we profess faith in the ultimate and eternal promise of God initiated in the manger. The Second Coming is the promised completion of divine action in the current order and the initiation of the divine will to bring forth the New Heaven and the New Earth. Thus, to contemplate the Second Coming of Christ is to enter into a season of infinite hope and joy as “God will wipe every tear from their [our] eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:4) We worship-in-waiting for the “coming” of our King when He returns to earth to rule and reign in righteousness and justice and make all things new. Talk about harrowing the grave. Talk about hallowing all life as it turns to Him. This is the power of the Advent season. It doesn’t mean rest, take a breather, collapse because you have overdone it; it means rest deeply, spiritually, wholly in the comfort that God’s promises are true.
Come unto me, all ye who travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.
Just as the Israelites in Egyptian bondage longed to be free from slavery and God provided a blood sacrifice through the Passover Lamb, we as pilgrims in this fallen world long for the day when we will be free from sin and live forever with our Lord. Advent is a time of hope and longing, anticipation and repentance, joy and satisfaction. So then, yes, rest.
This Advent season, I encourage you to “long” and “anticipate” the Second Coming of Christ as you celebrate His first. Amidst the fun of present buying and family gathering, laced through the eggnog drinking and friend visiting, under every well-planned moment and meaningful time, know the presence of the Holy Spirit and the companionship of Christ. Let the Lord alone refresh you as you lay down the burdens of activity, industry, and that heaviest of loads—expectation. Live the “Celebration Preparation” side-by-side with the One who celebrates. And dream of the life to come with the One comes to bring new life!
As we rejoice through Advent anticipating ‘food, friends, family, and fun,’ we are comforted and propelled to real joy by the presence and the promise! As a favorite Advent hymn proclaims,
Yea, Amen! let all adore Thee,
High on Thine eternal throne;
Savior, take the power and glory,
Claim the kingdom for Thine own;
O come quickly! O come quickly!
Everlasting God, come down!
Through, in, and by our Lord Jesus,
Father Bill Burk†