Growing Weary

Let’s go back to a time in your life when you were truly, utterly, exhausted. For many of us, the first thing that comes to mind is living with a newborn. There is no tired like post-pushing tired. I remember once waking up in the middle of the night to discover that I was standing up and leaning over my daughter’s crib. I had gotten up to soothe her, knowing that she was fed and dry. As I rubbed her back, I fell asleep in that position. I don’t know if I slept for 5 seconds or 5 minutes, but I don’t ever remember being that tired.

There are several variations of “tired.” We can grow weary of relationships. We can feel fatigued at the incessant opposition to our beliefs. We can become quickly exhausted by lack of sleep, lack of courtesy, lack of respect, lack of empathy, and especially lack of hope.

When this pandemic started, I likened it to a marathon, with the good news that every race has a prescribed course that is carefully marked out, and ends with a fixed and discernible finish line. Today I learned that there is something called the “Self-Transcendence 3,100 Mile Race” that takes place in Queens, New York every year. It takes 52 days of running 6 a.m. to midnight to complete it. The average mileage is a little under 60 miles a day. Runners have six hours per day for eating, washing, foot care, and sleep. Just thinking about that makes me tired.

So let me revise my earlier analogy of the pandemic being like a marathon, because now we realize that it is more like a “Self-Transcendence 3,100 Mile Race” and we have all become ultramarathoners.

But don’t miss the point…there is still a finish line at the end of this race, and every morning when we wake up, we are one day closer to the end.

Isaiah has some beautiful things to say about feeling faint, growing weary, being powerless, and where we can go to have our strength renewed:

Isaiah 40 (New Revised Standard Version)

Why do you say, O Jacob,
    and speak, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord,
    and my right is disregarded by my God”?

28 Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
    his understanding is unsearchable.

How reassuring is this? We are not running this ultramarathon alone, but indeed, God is running right there with us. He is the everlasting God. HE does not faint or grow weary. And look what happens next:

29 He gives power to the faint,
    and strengthens the powerless.

In the battle of virtual school, virtual church, virtual family birthday parties, virtual work, and virtually everything, God gives power to the faint and strengthens the powerless. We need that NOW.

30 Even youths will faint and be weary,
    and the young will fall exhausted;
31 but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
    they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
    they shall walk and not faint.

Those who wait for the Lord will renew their strength. They shall continue to run this crazy race and not be weary. The finish line is getting closer! Keep your head up and keep putting one foot in front of the other.

We truly are one day closer to the end of this thing.

Finish Line by Erin Gregory

Known By Name

Have you ever been in a place where the overwhelming majesty of God’s creation caught your breath in your throat and rendered you speechless in awe? Was it something as major as the Grand Canyon or the Mediterranean Sea, or something as small as a perfect sand dollar washing up on shore, or a newborn‘s first smile?

God’s majesty is all around, yet our busy, self-interested lives often prevent us from observing it. I have a challenge for you. Read this, then read it again. Then make a PLAN to go somewhere this week with the sole intention of observation. Even if you simply go out your front door tonight and look up, you are guaranteed to see God’s wondrous works.

Isaiah chastises us when we go for days or weeks without one simple moment of awe. I feel this rebuke sharply when I realize that I live minutes from the ocean and I haven’t set foot on the beach or even parked someplace where I can watch the ocean for many, many months. I am indeed a grasshopper.

Isaiah 40 (New Revised Standard Version)

Have you not known? Have you not heard?
    Has it not been told you from the beginning?
    Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?

22 It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,
    and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
    and spreads them like a tent to live in;
23 who brings princes to naught,
    and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.

24 Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown,
    scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth,
when he blows upon them, and they wither,
    and the tempest carries them off like stubble.

He brings princes and rulers of the earth to nothing. How much time we have wasted by passionately following earthly leaders as though they had the power to save us! Not a one of them has the power to save us. Only God does…and he blows on them and they are carried off like the stubble that they are.

The image of God sitting about the circle of the earth and stretching out the heavens like a curtain is glorious. Ponder that for a moment and then read on…

25 To whom then will you compare me,
    or who is my equal? says the Holy One.

The final image that Isaiah paints is of a God who numbers all the planets, nebula, and stars in the sky and instructs the universe where and how to spin. And he knows the names of the stars. HE KNOWS THE NAMES OF THE STARS. How could you possibly think that he doesn’t know yours? How could you possibly think that your troubles are too much to share with him, your sin too deep to be forgiven, or your circumstance too complicated to be fixed?

Lift up your eyes on high…and see.

26 Lift up your eyes on high and see:
    Who created these?
He who brings out their host and numbers them,
    calling them all by name;
because he is great in strength,
    mighty in power,
    not one is missing.

Not even the tiniest star goes missing from his sight. Neither do you.

Known by Name by Matt Seals

Good Tidings

Can you remember a time in your life when you had really, really, REALLY good news to share? I can remember racing home to my college dorm the night I got engaged. I couldn’t wait to tell my parents…they were the first call I made. Then ran up and down the halls and told my dorm-mates. Finally I settled down in my room and called my friends from high school, my grandparents, my sister, and my cousins. I spent a few hours sharing my good tidings. I couldn’t help myself!

Today we finish the passage in Isaiah that we began yesterday. In this section, we read of the good tidings of God’s return to redeem Jerusalem:

Isaiah 40 (New Revised Standard Version)

9 Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!”

10 See, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.

Here we see a sign of what the Messiah will look like. Good news! He comes with might to save his people, and tends to them like a caring shepherd:

11 He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.

We tell this story over and over. Every Advent brings us back to these same good tidings. Why do we keep repeating the same story?

Paul R. Abernathy, rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C., puts it like this:

“We do not recount the record of our redemption simply to recall ancient biblical texts. No. We retell the story so that it takes deeper root in us. We retell the story so that we become the story, the church seasons becoming active verbs in our lives.

We retell the story so that we always ‘advent,’ being alert to the coming of Jesus to us.
We retell the story so that we always ‘christmas,’ being animated by the birth of Jesus in us.
We retell the story so that we always ‘epiphany,’ being awake to the revelation of Jesus in us for the world.
We retell the story so that we always ‘lent,’ being aligned to the death of Jesus for us in our dying to sin.
We retell the story so that we always ‘easter,’ being alive to the resurrection of Jesus for us and in us.
We retell the story so that we always ‘pentecost,’ being afire with the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit.

Advent, then, is more than a mere revival of a repetitious cycle. Advent signals the renewal of a spiritual journey that wends its way to the very gate of glory of heavenly Jerusalem, the eternal city of God.”
(“When Will It End?” The African American Pulpit 1 [Fall 1998], 6.)

May you ‘advent’ and be alert to God-With-Us in new ways this year. Go and shout the good tidings of Christ’s birth from your own mountaintop! And may the story take deep root in you until you BECOME the story.

Go, and tell.

A High Mountain in Germany by Jessica Spiegelblatt

Comfort

My best friend’s husband has just been released from ICU. He was diagnosed with COVID 19 and is slowly recovering. There are health issues remaining, and the long-term picture is unknown. How I long to comfort them!

A colleague from my last church is in the same situation. He has been sick for a month. What words of comfort can we give him?

Close to 1.5 million people have died worldwide, millions are infected, schools are struggling with remote learning, businesses are failing, families are separated, and the future, while hopeful, is still unknown.

We all long for comfort in this season. Where can we find hope?

In the book of Isaiah, we find the incredibly beautiful words of comfort that we need right now. The nation of Israel was living in isolation. A virus of extreme apostasy had infected the people, leaving them weak and vulnerable enough to be captured by the Babylonians. They became long haulers who were scattered about in foreign lands.

They needed a Savior.

Isaiah 40 (New Revised Standard Version)

Comfort, O comfort my people,
    says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
    and cry to her
that she has served her term,
    that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
    double for all her sins.

But then God declared that their term of isolation had ended. God would bring not only comfort, but redemption.

A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
    make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
    and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
    and the rough places a plain.

Where in your life are you lacking comfort? Aside from the pandemic, where are you crying out for redemption? Are there addictions, relationships, economic realities, or sinful behaviors that are making you cry out for relief? Where do you need to be healed?

These words are for YOU. God is preparing a way in your wilderness. He is flattening all the obstacles that are blocking your path. He is raising up a valley of help and resources to meet your situation. He is leveling your playing field.

What are you to do? Look. Follow. Be obedient to the changes that he is requiring. Listen to his words and HEED them. Only then will the glory of his redemption be revealed in your life.

Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
    and all people shall see it together,
    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

The mouth of the Lord has spoken! His words bring comfort. Open your ears and listen.

The Glory of the Lord is Revealed by Michelle Robertson

Blue Christmas

When I was a child, my family’s Christmas lights were red, yellow, green, white, and orange. I don’t recall when blue lights came into vogue, but I remember being stunned the first time I saw a tree vibrant with blue LED lights dominating the color scheme. Blue is now my favorite Christmas light color. After all, blue is the liturgical color for the season of Advent.

Then I experienced my first “blue Christmas,” a phrase now used to define a sad, lonely, and sorrowful Christmas. Not everybody has a holly, jolly Christmas. The loss of a loved one, a divorce, a family member not being able to come home, having to work over the holidays, and just plain disappointment can all lead to feeling blue during the most wonderful time of the year. My blue Christmas was due to three things. I had moved away from my church of 16 years, and I was on leave with no Christmas Eve services to look forward to. My oldest daughter had just gotten married and was spending Christmas in another state with her in-laws. Worst of all, my father passed away suddenly two days after Thanksgiving.

I wasn’t just blue, I was black and blue.

Have you ever felt like a holiday could smack you right down? Holidays can be sneaky little buggers. They can come up behind you without any warning in the mall or at a party and poke you so hard from behind that it knocks the wind right out of you. A flash of memory, a familiar song, a taste of nostalgia, and suddenly, unbidden, you are feeling the pain of your loss with such intensity that you can’t move or breathe. The unhappy irony of that is that Christmas is the celebration of the Prince of Peace, the Comforter:

Isaiah 40

1 Comfort, O comfort my people,

    says your God.

2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,

    and cry to her

that she has served her term,

    that her penalty is paid,

that she has received from the Lord’s hand

    double for all her sins.

3 A voice cries out:

“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,

    make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

4 Every valley shall be lifted up,

    and every mountain and hill be made low;

the uneven ground shall become level,

    and the rough places a plain.

5  Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,

    and all people shall see it together,

    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

Even in the bluest of Christmases, God comes into our valley of sorrow to lift us up and level us out. Grief is a natural expression of a life that was well loved. It is the heart’s way of dealing with the unthinkable void that death creates. God longs to bring comfort to his people who mourn. He longs to comfort you in your blueness. And here is the good news: he will stay by your side until you begin to feel just the smallest and slightest bit better. And eventually you will.

He won’t leave you or grow tired of comforting you, for he is the everlasting God.

28  Have you not known? Have you not heard?

The Lord is the everlasting God,

    the Creator of the ends of the earth.

He does not faint or grow weary;

    his understanding is unsearchable.

29 He gives power to the faint,

    and strengthens the powerless.

30 Even youths will faint and be weary,

    and the young will fall exhausted;

31 but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,

    they shall mount up with wings like eagles,

they shall run and not be weary,

    they shall walk and not faint.

Are you having a blue Christmas this year? You are not alone. If you look around, you will probably find others in the same color scheme as you. So don’t feel ignored or left out of all of the “have yourself a merry little Christmas” celebrations…others are faking it, too.

I hugged a friend last week who just lost her mother. I know she is dreading this Christmas. I have experienced that same dread and the feeling of disconnect with the joy-to-the-world spirit that others were feeling. I even felt resentful and could not wait for Christmas to be over. As I held her, I heard myself saying, “Every time you miss your mom this season, try to get up and do something for someone else. Think of someone who needs a prayer, or a card, or a casserole, and focus on that.”

I don’t know if that will help. I do know that when we push our way out of our circumstance, we survive for another day and live to tell about it. Sometimes that’s all we can hope for. Blue Christmases are a game of survival. And when grief finally loosens its stranglehold on us, we can begin to feel joy again.

So look around. Others are blue, too. Somebody you know is having a bleak mid-winter this year. Find someone who needs their pain to be acknowledged, and let them know that you see them. When you do that, blueness begins to fade….theirs, and yours.

Blue LED lights

Here is a resource that might help, or be the perfect gift for somebody blue on your list: Mourning Break-Words of Hope for Those in Grief