When Christmas Hurts
Topic: Biblical Verse: Matthew 11:28–11:30
When Christmas Hurts
December 19, 2019
Jesus’ words in the Gospel lesson for this evening seem like a contradiction: “I will give you rest” and “Take my yoke upon you.” How can we associate rest with a yoke, which symbolizes the burden of work? In this season it may feel like we are bearing heavy burdens: holiday obligations and expectations; putting on a shiny, happy face for the sake of appearances when that is not at all how we really feel; watching others who are making merry while we ourselves feel far removed from it all. All of these things may well feel like a heavy yoke upon our shoulders; a burden that we long to have lifted. That is why this service is being held. As the introductory paragraph in the bulletin states: “This worship service, placed near the darkest and shortest day of the year (Dec 21 is the winter solstice), acknowledges the reality of grief and loss in life. With the pain they bring, this holy season can feel like a burden instead of a blessing.” This is why we are here in the soft glow of this Sanctuary: to acknowledge the deep burden of pain in our lives in whatever form that may take. Acknowledging this is an important step; some people never allow themselves to do this, but live in a constant state of denial while slogging through each day. But merely acknowledging that the pain is real is not enough. Then what? Where do we go and what do we do to find relief and healing for that pain? Keeping busy so we don’t have to think about our pain, self-medicating to numb the pain – there are lots of choices out there.
Back to that original question: the seeming contradiction of Jesus’ words “I will give you rest” and “Take my yoke upon you.” A yoke is not something we see very often, at least not where we live. Previous generations, especially those who lived in rural areas, were very familiar with yokes, though. Usually fashioned out of wood, a yoke brings two animals – often oxen – together to pull a wagon, a plow, or some other farm equipment. If you’ve ever traveled to a living history farm, you might have seen such a yoke, or better yet, seen one being used. But what happens if there’s only one animal in that yoke vs. two? One ox rather than two oxen? You will not go anywhere because the yoke is designed for two, not for one. The one ox will end up going in a big loop with little, if any, forward movement. The same is true for us when we try to go it alone in life instead of accepting Jesus’ invitation. We often end up going in a big loop with little, if any, forward movement. And we typically end up exhausted because we are doing all the pulling; all the heavy lifting. Like little children, we stick out our chin and say: “I do it myself.” Jesus offers us a better way. He invites us to step into his yoke and let him do the pulling and the heavy lifting. He tells us “my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:30). Compared to the self-imposed burdens that we often carry, the burden of Jesus’ yoke is one that leads to contentment, peace, and rest. The One who was born in Bethlehem’s stall, who loves us and laid down his life for us, does not desire that we live in misery and distress, but that we cast all our cares and anxieties on him, knowing how much He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). But Jesus will not force his way into our lives. He gives us the freedom to tell him “no” and go it alone in that yoke, if we so choose.
I believe that we are here this evening because we do not want to go it alone. We are anxious to come to Jesus and receive that rest for our souls which He promises to give. Tired of trusting in the fragile futility of our own resources, we look for strength beyond our own strength. We look to that Light shining from the manger in Bethlehem – “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5). Moved by the Holy Spirit, we say with the psalmist: “My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:2). And the Lord who made heaven and earth knows your name and your need. “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Isaiah 53:4). He knows the burden of pain, disappointment, heartache, sorrow, and loss that his children bear. “He knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:14). The Lord Jesus has come to transform mourning into dancing; our sorrow into joy. Jesus has come that we “may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). That is his promise, and the Lord, who is true to his Word, makes good on all his promises.
When Christmas hurts, come to Jesus. Take his yoke upon you, for He is gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For his yoke is easy, and his burden is light. Thanks be to God. Amen.
“May the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it” (1 Thes. 5:23).