Each December, it happens again. I find myself too weary to come up with the ideas and attention I need to summon up a coherent thought. When the time comes to pull up an empty document and have a good time, the muse stands me up. I suspect December has the same effect on most people. Whether work demands increase, family obligations loom, or the impending loneliness of the holidays drives us into anxious action, the final month of the year seems to take its toll on all of us.
As I was cursing the muse for his absence this morning, my mind began to wander and I began to think about the Christ that was born to us. Sometimes we still remember his coming at this time of year, although he has stiff competition these days. Today, my mind wandered (or was escorted?) to one of the simplest sayings of the God-Man named Jesus.
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
As I turned to the story of Jesus, as Matthew the tax collector remembered it (chapter 11), I came up with four observations.
1. Jesus introduced the promise directly after thanking his Father for hiding the truth from the wise.
To those who are unfamiliar with the story of Jesus, this will seem rather odd, but the more time you spend with Jesus, the more you will see that his promises are for the simple-minded. In other words, his promise of rest is not a promise for the elite, illuminate, but for the mindless masses (Jesus affectionately calls us sheep more than once). If you want this promise, you have to embrace mystery, wonder, and a sense of magic that is at the same time more magical and more true than what the jolly fat elf in a red suit has to offer. But one thing Jesus and Santa have in common is that they are both for children- or at least those who are willing to become like children.
2. Jesus alone provides rest- mainly because only he knows what rest means.
While we move about frantically, in efforts to prove ourselves to our selves, our family members, our friends, or to God, Jesus spends his time with nothing to prove. In the story that Matthew related, there is Jesus, re-defining the Sabbath itself. Rest and healing go hand-in-hand. When St. Mark told the same story, he remembered that Jesus summed up his thoughts with the phrase, The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath. In other words, when we go to Jesus for rest, we come to him with enough humility to let him teach us how to let him take our burdens. We come to him on his terms, not our own.
3. Spending time with Jesus does not automatically make you more like him.
When my dad was coaching our baseball team growing up, I remember him redefining the worn-out adage practice makes perfect. No, he said, perfect practice makes perfect– a nice play on words to say what this story says as well. If your heart is hard, you can pray all you want, read your bible all you want, memorize whole books of the bible, and yet find yourself planning ways to murder the one giving you rest. When you come to Jesus, the idea is not only to come with your burdens, the idea is to lay them down. If that sounds easy, my guess is that you have never tried it- or else the next point may be more to the point than I imagine it to be.
4. I suck at resting.
I love to read the story of the first six days of creation. First, nothing, then matter, then day, then land, then fish, then animals, then Adam and Eve. I love it. I love it so much that I instinctively blow by Day 7. That is when God rests. He sits back and enjoys the work of his hands. He imagines the ups and downs of history that are to come, but mainly, he just chills out and enjoys the community of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I blow by it because I have very little experience at truly resting- laying down my own self-expectations for long enough to enjoy time unfettered by the frantic need to produce.
I have such a hard time letting God be God.
But this promise is not made to those who are exceptionally bright, but to those who are exceptionally dull. It is not to the wise that Jesus promises rest, but to the children.
And his promise is true.