As you can see from the attached photo, our grandson, two-year old Judah Michael, was tuckered out. A day at the beach had done its work. And then, while Judah slumbered, the couch did its work. I have vague recollections of such childhood snoozes. For little Stevie B, the 60-mile trip home to Colorado Springs from my grand-parents farm often lulled me to sleep.
Even the young need physical “rest” – from Old English – ræste, reste – “rest, bed, intermission of labor, mental peace.” God has made us so that our bodies demand such “intermissions” –inter – “what happens between” + missions – “our tasks, what we are sent to accomplish.”
We also need mental/spiritual rest. God is the primary source of that rest. The author of our Christmas song, God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen, knew this. This anonymous author does not use the comma after “Ye” but after “Merry.” “Merry” is not an adjective for “Gentlemen” but the result of what God “resting” us. In other words, the author was saying: “Even as December brings Christmas so the effect of God’s resting us is that we become ‘merry.’”
God rest ye merry, gentlemen
Let nothing you dismay
Remember, Christ, our Saviour
Was born on Christmas day
To save us all from Satan’s power
When we were gone astray
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy.
Let me give you a picture of this rest that can make us merry. I had travelled with a friend and his 90-year-old father, Bill, to a cabin at a retreat center not far from Glacier National Park. We had come to “West of 60” – a retreat where hundreds of “older folk” from the Northwest gather. Bill had been a regular for decades. Then, several years ago, his effervescent wife, Lil, suffered a stroke. When we took this trip, she was bed-ridden and sometimes confused. Bill was her primary caretaker. But, so that Bill could have a rare getaway, for these two days Lil was in the care of family and friends.
After settling in at the cabin, Bill, as part of keeping the vow he had made 70 years before, phoned Lil. From the other room I inadvertently overheard Bill say: “Lil, I choose you. You are the girl of my dreams.” And there were more inexplicable endearments. I’m not sure what they were. They flashed by. Perhaps my loss of memory was due to shock or embarrassment. I hadn’t expected to hear such intimacy. I hadn’t expected to hear such love. Bill’s bride, Lil, was disoriented and needed to hear her husband’s voice on the phone – reassuring her – once again. We could say: “Bill rest you merry, Lil.” Indeed!
Like Lil, we can be “bewildered”- from be – “thoroughly” + Old English wilder “lead astray, lure into the wilds.” Wilder is related to our word, “wilderness” – from wilde – “wild” + deor “animal, deer.” Like Lil, we can be “disoriented.” “Disorient” comes from the French, désorienter – “to cause to lose one’s bearings,” literally, dis – “to turn from” + orienter – “the east.” Decades ago, during a Christmas break from college studies, a friend and I hiked to Horn Lake (elevation @ 11,000’) in Colorado’s Sangre de Christo range. A storm blew in. For me, the swirling snow was not only dizzying but “disorienting” as well. Without my friend’s help, I might still be wandering.
And how do we orient ourselves in life? What are our BIG reference points? Let’s turn toward the essentials of the Christian story.
A visiting missionary described how folks in his African village used to bury their dead face down. After they became familiar with the gospel, they began to bury their dead facing up – indicating that these dead bodies were awaiting their promised face to face resurrection with Jesus – when he returns in the clouds. “The end of all things is near. There for be clear minded and self-controlled so you can pray” (1 Peter 4:7). That grand Consummation orients us.
So does Creation. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day(Genesis 1:3 -5). What a reference point we have here – we and our world are not the result of time and chance but we are created by the Person.
And, what about Redemption? In 2003, on our way West, several sons and I stopped to worship at a church pastored by a friend with whom I had attended seminary years before. My classmate preached from the text above – Genesis 1:5: And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day. In the margin of my Bible next to that passage, I still have a reminder I made during his sermon: Note, our day begins in the evening – with our resting and with God working.”
See the connection with Redemption? Even here, at the very beginning, we have a hint of the Gospel Redemption to come – God, The Worker, accomplishing our salvation in the death, burial, resurrection and ascension of Jesus – and we, the recipients who depend upon his work, resting. The second question asked those who want to join a Presbyterian church (PCA) is: Do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and Savior of sinners, and do you receive and rest upon Him alone for salvation as He is offered in the Gospel? (PCA Book of Church Order).
Consummation, Creation, and Redemption can re-orient us – can rest our souls.
Nevertheless, we are often bewildered by the impact of the Fall – an event that has brought pain to us and still can shake us all. Think of Lil and Bill. Think of those folks in Africa. And when you think of my classmate who preached so well, you need to know that, a few years after that sermon, he, bewildered and disoriented by despair, took his own life. He was the second pastor friend of mine who chose suicide. The pastor whose church I attended while I was in seminary also – years later – took his own life too.
What shall we say when the Fall turns so deadly? Bryan Chapell, another classmate, spoke at our friend’s funeral. The questions that I dread to ask and, at the same moment, find that I must dare to ask, the Word of God answers in this sermon (The Sermon on the Mount) of my Savior. Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of God.” With these simple words Jesus assures us that being poor in spirit does not disqualify us from the Kingdom of God. The most important reason that poverty of spirit does not disqualify from the kingdom of God is that God’s riches are so much greater than our poverty.
Because of the Fall, our reality is: “Cheer up, we are worse than we think we are.” But, then the love of God in Christ is greater than we dare imagine.
Christian, when the Fall savages us – when missionary stories – when stalwart examples of older Christians – when, to some extent, even Scripture seems empty – when we fail ourselves and others – or when they fail us – there is still One who comes to us. We may be bewildered. He is never disoriented. He made True North. And he knows we have been bought – ransomed – redeemed. Christian, bewildered though we may be, we “belong” to him – be -“thoroughly” + longen – “to go,” from Old English – “pertain to, to go along with, properly relate to.” He our True Older Brother has come to rescue us – and has. Although we can be shocked at the unexpected intimacy of his love, that we irrevocably belong to him is now proper in the highest sense. So, we go with him – he directs the orientation of our hearts.
And seeing that we are held so dear, we believe and we rest. Edward Mote (1797-1874), put it this way:
His oath, His covenant, His blood
Support me in the whelming flood;
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my hope and stay.
God rest you merry, gentlemen and gentlewomen.
Sucking out (some of) the marrow-nourishment from the bone-words with you,
PS: My classmate’s name was Petros Roukas (1953-2004). He was a groomsman at Bryan Chapell’s wedding. I’d recommend that you read the rest of Bryan Chapell’s sermon in: “The Hardest Sermons You’ll Ever Have to Preach: Help from Trusted Preachers for Tragic Times,” Bryan Chapell (editor). Bryan’s sermon is also available on-line at sites.silaspartners.com. Often, I’ve given Bryan’s sermon to those who have been sorting through the challenges associated with the suicide of a family member or friend. It is not unusual for me to hear those who have read this sermon reply: “This is the best help I’ve had.”
Suicide by a pastor is a heinous sin. We do not want to minimize that. Being “poor in spirit” is NOT some kind of justification for suicide. Nor do we say that suicide is somehow permissible because it can lead to the kingdom of God. We distinguish between the healthy humility/poverty of spirit produced by the Holy Spirit – “God, I am at the end of my resources – I must totally depend upon Christ” and the wickedly murderous despair produced by our old natures. While saying all of that, we still say: Let’s let God be God – his grace is greater than our sin – his grace can reach to the gates of hell. Being overwhelmed by despair and taking one’s life does not necessarily put such a person beyond the grace of God.
PPS: Lil went to be with her Maker, Redeemer and Friend on October 16, 2012. Please pray for Bill.