Of all the best of human emotions, I would have to say “relief” comes close to topping the list.
Before you write me off, think about it for a moment.
Have you ever experienced an excruciating amount of pain, conflict, or suffering, and then, after some period of time you received relief from it? The pain was finally eased. The conflict was finally resolved. The suffering was finally over.
Think about that moment of relief.
You could finally breathe that long-awaited and much-needed sigh of liberation. Was that not one of the greatest feelings?
At the close of the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament, Israel, the “holy nation” of God, the “kingdom of priests” (Ex 19:6), showed themselves to be anything but that. They had incessantly rebelled against God and continually dishonored His reputation amongst the other nations (Ex 32:9; Isa 48:4). Due to Israel’s failure, God eventually responded by disciplining them by kicking them out of the Land that was promised to their forefathers (Gen 12:1-2). What followed? Generation after generation of the Hebrew people were brutally conquered, and as a result, they lived under the heavy rule of other nations. They struggled with their identity as God’s People. Their hope for restoration and freedom hung by a thread.
Relief was desperately needed.
But, God was silent.
430 long years passed.
It seemed God had turned His back on His People.
The Jews had been beaten up, dishonored, and disorganized.
It was impossible not to assume the worst. Doubts and despair crept in.
Had God rejected the People he claimed He “loved with an ever-lasting love” (Jer 31:3)?
Was the long-awaited Messiah ever going to come and restore all that was broken?
Then one day, the silence was finally broken.
God spoke to a man named Zechariah; a man whose name in Hebrew means, “God remembers.” God told him of his son, named John, who would be a “forerunner” for the coming, long-awaited Messiah:
And he will go as forerunner before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared for him. (Lk 1:17; a fulfillment of Mal 4:4-6)
The glimpse of relief.
God saw His People. God loved His People. God acted for His People.
God did not just send any human to relieve their distress. He sent more than a human. God sent His own Son – Jesus. Jesus’ own name means, “to rescue, to save, to deliver.” God came down.
But God didn’t send His Son into a world of comfort and ease. He sent Jesus to be born and placed in a manger. In many traditional Christmas stories, a manger is depicted as a nice, wooden baby’s cradle. Truth be told, a manger in those days was really a simple feeding trough. An animal’s feeding trough. It was more likely made of hollowed-out stone, so the animals wouldn’t destroy it when they ate their food from it. Needless to say, it was dirty and unglamorous. God “got in the mess.” He got in the mess to be with us; to rescue us; to show us how life was intended to be lived. Because God was willing to stoop down and be placed in a manger, true relief was finally available for the world. His kind of relief was not to spare us from the difficulties of life but to have the presence of God available to be with us in them.
So, what does all this mean for us today?
It means God is deeply aware of the things you need relief from. He knows those things and He cares for you in the “mess.” In fact, He is willing to walk with you through the mess.
How do we know that?
Because God loves us.
We see it in His entrance into the world. We see it in how He lived and walked amongst others. We see it in how He sacrificed Himself, taking the punishment of a rebellious, deserving people on His blameless shoulders. He traded the crushing weight of our sin for His satisfying righteousness and grace.
He came down. He was placed in a feeding trough to be with us and to show us life – life as it was intended to be.
This was love. This was love was the relief we desperately needed. This kind of love is not just a feeling, but feeling and action perfectly integrated.
So, this Advent season, may you celebrate what happened when God came down. May we follow our teacher, our rabbi Jesus, and be those who get into the “mess” with and for others. He came and offered you relief. Relief that came at salvation, but you’ve only just begun. We have relief from trying to self-righteously earn God’s favor. From a life of hopelessness. From incessant bitterness. From a death eternally separated from Him. Take a moment… more than a moment, to sit in that truth. May it cause you to celebrate and share God’s goodness and love.
Continue in Advent
- Joy Part Two:
- Joy Part One: Joy in the Instead
- Peace Part Two: A Gentle Disruption
- Peace Part One: Finding Peace in 2020
- Hope Part Two: A Present Focus for a Future Reality
- Hope Part One: A Liturgical Reflection