A weary world rejoices?
BY PHIL INGLIS
Every year I am a little cautious about throwing around the words “Merry Christmas”! Or “Happy Christmas”, or “Happy Holidays”, or whatever!
This year has been a tough one on a global scale. We were still recovering from the economic effects of the pandemic when Russia invaded Ukraine, with the resulting economic conditions causing widespread hardship. Climate has also contributed to the pain, with increasing temperatures giving rise to extreme weather events, leaving death and destruction across the world.
This has meant that, for many of us, 2023 has been a difficult year. The cost of electricity, groceries and housing is going up like a rocket. Many have been unable to pay rent or afford the basics of existence. The demand for Salvation Army services has grown dramatically, and we expect this to continue as the economy continues to struggle. Christmas is going to be very different for people this year.
People are weary. Not tired, like we need an afternoon nap, but weary like we need a 6-month holiday.
So, you can see that this year, I am even more cautious about saying “Merry Christmas”.
And yet, my favourite Christmas carol is O Holy Night, and it has the line “The weary world rejoices.” What the heck? Why is it worth getting out a tree? Why is it worth putting on lights (that use expensive electricity)? Why is it worth going shopping for loved ones? Why is it worth gathering with family? Why is it worth going to church? There’s just so much going on right now, so much is hard right now, why don’t I just fade into the weariness and forget Christmas this year? Why, in heaven’s name, would a weary world rejoice?
“People are weary. Not tired, like we need an afternoon nap, but weary like we need a six-month holiday.”
The unique spiritual truth of the Christmas story is that God, however we understand God, came to be one of us. Came and lived among us.
This is not a particularly strange story. Ancient mythology has lots of stories of gods like Zeus, Apollo and Thor coming to earth and having dealings with humanity. They fight battles for, with or against humanity, they lead, teach, build and do all sorts of things. They were ancient superheroes; they came alongside humanity … but they were different. They still stood apart and above humanity.
Christmas says something different about Jesus. Jesus, the one we believe to be the one true God, was not like Thor – a superhero with a hammer and wrapped in a cape. Instead, he was a baby in a manger, wrapped in a cloth … fully and completely immersed in human existence and experience – not standing separate and apart.
“Why would a weary world rejoice?”
The Bible says, “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel’ which is translated, ‘God with us’,” (Matthew chapter 1, verse 23).
This truth should slowly transform our understanding of ourselves, God and the universe. Even when times are rough, hard, hurtful and frustrating – even when times are incredibly weary – God is present. God is not distant, unfeeling, unable to relate – God is down-to-earth, understanding and available.
At Christmas, we don’t rejoice EVEN THOUGH we are weary; we rejoice exactly BECAUSE God knows about weariness and walks with us in empathy and understanding. We look forward with a little more love and hope, a little less anxiety and a little more joy.
Major Phil Inglis is a Salvation Army officer (pastor) in Victoria.