In the hospital where I served as chaplain last year, in which I cared for the emotional and spiritual needs of patients, family, and staff, just a few hours of work could mean jarring emotional experiences. I could go from one visit with a patient who had just received the news of their worst fear being realized, to another room next with someone who was responding so well to medicine they were getting to go home earlier than expected. I could go from offering a blessing over a newborn baby with joyous parents to praying commendatory prayers with the family of someone who had suddenly died in the Emergency Department.
It was very challenging to figure out how to hold my emotional reaction from one experience to make space for the new, different emotional field and context of needs. It is hard to be out of step emotionally with the context one is in, to be feeling happy when all around are sad, or sad when all around are joyful. It’s hard for a whole host of reasons. We’re social beings, created in the image and likeness of the God who is Triune, one God, three persons in a dynamic, interrelating communion of being. Biologically, humans appear to have a sort of neurologic mirror system at the root of physical empathy, where we see someone bang their elbow and we wince with pain, or begin giggling just because another was tickled. Human beings are not as self-contained as many of us would wish; we begin to seep into one another.
So when one setting is especially strident, say stores, public spaces, TV, and the internet during the holiday season of secular Christmas, and if, for example, a person was at the same time in that context experiencing pain, or fear, or grief… well, I can only imagine that friction might be very tiring, and/or frustrating, and/or hurtful. Secular Christmas is loud. Seems like it begins just a little after Halloween now, and ramps up to fever pitch at 5 PM on Thanksgiving Day. It shouts at us in all the ways that it can that it is time. Time to be happy, time to be thankful, and especially time to buy things. And that’s fine, it can be a lot of fun, I’m not trying to be a grump about people's holidays, but we know life is messier than that… and the constant immersion in jingle bells and Santa Claus can begin to grate, especially if other things are weighing on our hearts.
So I’m simply here to tell you tonight, that here at least, right now and hopefully offered in such a way that you can carry it with you, it is ok that you’re wherever you are. Whatever you’re feeling, whatever wounds and scars you bear, whatever grief may lie heavy on your shoulders, you can be real here, you can trust that God loves you as you are, regardless, that Jesus offers a yoke that gives rest to the weary. We can pray for comfort, for peace, for healing, and for hope, but we don’t have to pretend that those things always come immediately. Even feeling hopeless, we can be present and allow others to hope for us, to lift us up before the Lord.
The seasons of the church year make more room for the reality of suffering than the secular holiday season does. “Advent is born in darkness” the darkness of the year and of the world. Advent recognizes that there is still so much in common between the world just before Jesus was born and the world now. That while we trust the work of salvation accomplished and finished in Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension, we look to his coming again for the fulfillment of it, for the whole world to reflect that Salvation. Even Christmastide, when we celebrate God breaking into the world in the birth of Christ, holds just days later its commemoration of the Slaughter of the Innocents, those children who were killed in Herod’s quest to remove the threat he saw in Jesus.
Randy offered a quotation in his sermon this past Sunday, that God’s grace “meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us.” I think that’s a pretty good summary of the Christian life and hope. I hope you will hear me that wherever you are, however you are, God is with you and God is coming to you. I’d say it’s ok if you’re not ok, but that doesn’t sound right. What I mean is, you don’t have to pretend that it is ok when it isn’t. So much isn’t in this world and in this life and this is why we look with hope for Christ’s coming again. You don’t have to pretend for your priest, or for the Church, and most especially not for God. Love is risk, love is vulnerability, love will leave wounds. The Gospel and I trust, our experience in life, teaches us this. But they are the worthiest wounds and I believe God finds our scars beautiful.
I believe this because the resurrected Christ still bears the wounds of crucifixion. By those wounds we are healed. By those wounds we know that God is in solidarity with the wounded. Christ came for the sick, the hurt, the weak… Christ came for me and came for you. And he still does. In Advent and in Christmas we celebrate and cast our hopes on this. We sing hymns of joy and celebrate being citizens of the Kingdom of God, even while amidst the suffering world of broken hearts and broken people. We don’t have to pretend otherwise. God has room for all of it, wants all of it. Especially the weary, heavy burdens. Especially you.
May you know some rest tonight and may all you love know peace.