A kind of sacred joy has always accompanied my celebration of Advent. But this year, as I prepared for our Advent journey, I carried a heavy weight in my soul. So much in the world is unsettled and disturbing. The war in Ukraine and now in Gaza marks, again, the power of humanity to inflict chaos, death, and destruction. War deeply scars us, and the trauma of it cascades down the generations. Add to this the trauma of our own private wars and the impact is… weariness.
All the way back in August the people at Sanctified Art emailed me with this year’s Advent series theme—“How Does a Weary World Rejoice?” I was struck by this theme, based on a line from the familiar Christmas carol “O Holy Night.” Weary is not a word we use in worship, yet it captured what I was carrying into my Advent planning. And so I embraced the tension of weariness and wonder, of grief and hope, of isolation and connection, and of fear and joy. Holding space for this tension has helped us to invite our congregation to embrace the spiritual practice of embracing discomfort within us as we simultaneously embrace the comfort of the Incarnation.
As a ministry leadership coach, I ask lots of questions. And the question that matters to me in this season is simple: “Are you weary?” This question prompts us to take inventory on what we are feeling. Right now, I invite you to pause and consider the ways you feel weary. As pastors and church leaders we often feel the weariness of the people in our congregation who are experiencing difficulties. We also carry the weariness of criticism, difficult decisions, conflict, loss, hurt, health, and the weekly responsibilities of pastoral ministry. It can lead us to a dark and difficult place.
In Matthew 11:28 Jesus says, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Here, He’s offering us a beautiful expression of comfort. As we consider our weariness, remember that Jesus does not remove it—instead, He offers us rest in the midst of it. Most of us want to rid our lives of the tension that can come through difficulty and strife. In verse 29 Jesus continues with: “Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Learn from me… Learn how to hold the tension of weariness with humility and gentleness. And as you hold these together, you will find rest.
In this season of Advent and in this time of weariness, let me invite you to consider some next steps…
- Be present with your weariness, holding this feeling with love and curiosity. Many of our feelings can be bring us to awareness of old wounds, unmet needs, and insecurities. What would it look like for you to journal about these feelings, then share them with a trusted friend or therapist. See what they reveal—and how are they inviting you to embrace the pain, hurt, and loss in your life? Love this part of yourself, which can awaken the reality of who you truly are in Christ.
- Be ready for joy. One of the sermons we did earlier this fall focused on Miriam. When the Israelites escaped Egypt, they left in a hurry. Even the bread was prepared so quickly there was no time for yeast. But even amidst the speedy getaway, Miriam found time to grab a tambourine. In Exodus 15 Miriam led the way with her tambourine as the people of God celebrated God’s faithfulness. She was anticipating that there would be times of celebration. Joy comes in unexpected moments, moments when we can reflect on God’s faithfulness. Weariness is not the absence of joy, and we can learn to hold them both simultaneously.
- Stay connected to community. Ongoing isolation is debilitating and can lead to a lack of perspective. Finding a community opens the door for meaningful conversations, which fosters empathy. We all need alone time to recharge, but during this time of weariness take inventory… Are you isolated, lonely, disengaged? Find meaningful ways to step back into relationships. Jesus’ words tell us to “come to Me”—so, who is the Body of Christ for you this Advent season? What relationships remind you that you are loved?
How does a weary world rejoice? We do so by embracing our weariness, finding seasons of joy, and connecting in healthy relationships. I’ve been reminded on several occasions over the last few months that wisdom and perspective come through trials and tribulations. What is your weariness revealing to you today?
If you find yourself stuck in a cycle that is tending to spin in an unhealthy pattern, please reach out to one of the coaches at Vibrant Faith. We are trained to help you form new patterns that can redirect you in ways that bring life.
Rev. Dr. Mark Slaughter serves as the Minister of Worship Arts at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Burnsville, MN. In addition to his 35+ years of ministry, he received a Doctor of Ministry from Fuller Theological Seminary, Master of Divinity and Church Music from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and a Bachelor of Music from Belmont University.