On December 1, the first day of Advent 2019, I penned for all the world to see, “I have decided once again to participate in #AdventWord, the global online Advent calendar.” I managed to complete meditations for days 1, 2, 3, 5, and 7 before the end-of-semester scramble–or the insidious sin of acedia–caused me to slough off that commitment and neglect not only #AdventWord, but also my entire blog, until yesterday, when the actual end of the semester inspired me to take up my (virtual) pen once again.
This morning, representative of one of those startling coincidences that seems somehow meant to be, an email notification popped up on my screen, telling me that today’s word for Advent is rest. Significantly, only the rest indulged in over the last three days has enabled me even to lift that pen, much less find the words that once came so easily. With no more alarms to set for 4:00 so I could grade papers before leaving for school, no more hour-long commutes to Fayetteville and then back again, I have been able to sleep as long as the dogs would let me; 13 hours and 45 minutes one night! I have had the luxury of swimming and working out in the middle of the day instead of at 5:30 when I am already physically and mentally exhausted. I haven’t yet picked up a book, but I will. So today’s #AdventWord speaks powerfully to me.
Whenever I think of rest in a biblical context, my mind naturally goes to Matthew 11:28-30:
Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (King James Version)
Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly (The Message).
Hear what comfortable words our Saviour Christ saith unto all who truly turn to him. Come unto me, all ye that travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you. St. Matt. xi. 28. (Wycliffe Bible, 1928 Book of Common Prayer)
These are indeed comfortable words to me. And I find that the language in each of these translations contains uniquely nuanced lessons about the comfort they offer.
Notably, both the Elizabethan language of the King James version and Eugene Peterson’s contemporary paraphrase in The Message–and all those in between–emphasize the necessary connection of work and rest: “Take my yoke upon you”; “Walk with me and work with me.” Neither sloth nor leisure is rest. It’s therefore no accident that the rest I described in recent days was tied up with work and enabled even more work. Moreover, it is special work to which Jesus calls us:
Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets (Matthew 22:37-40 KJV).
This kind of work pairs easily with rest because the work itself–loving God, others, and ourselves–brings joy and fulfillment; the rest is part and parcel of the work itself. And this connection provides important counsel about finding rest in all the other work we must do because we are Adam’s sons and daughters. That is, if we can find the love and the joy in the work we do, we will also find the rest we need. In my job, doing so is easy; I love language and literature, and mostly I love the students who teach me and humble me and inspire me. I realize that there are plenty of other jobs, such as the arduous one my father did for 38 years in a copper mine, whose connection to love and joy is not so apparent. But I know he did that work because he loved his family and embraced with joy his duty to provide for us. In short, if we can see whatever work we do as a sacrament–an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace–then we can find the rest that inheres in labors of love.
I will close with one more insight I have gained from this study:
I will give you rest. . . . [Y]e shall find rest unto your souls.
I’ll show you how to take a real rest. . . . Learn the unforced rhythms of grace[;] . . . learn to live freely and lightly.
I will refresh you.
I will refresh you. This language from the Wycliffe Bible contains perhaps the most comfortable–and the most joyful–promise in these disparate translations. For we have a tendency to demean the true nature of rest; we often equate it with idleness, lack of purpose, ennui. But we understand refreshment in its positive sense–as revival, renewal, reinvigoration. These are the qualities of rest Jesus promises us.
As we approach the end of Advent, awaiting his coming into the world and into our lives, may we all live according to the rhythms of grace and thereby find true rest for our souls.