(by David Kerrigan)
On Friday morning last week our staff met for prayer, this time led by our mission department. I was tired, and I had a huge amount to do, but I went. I didn’t seriously consider not going but I know the difference between “I ought to go” and “I really want to go.” This was an ought, but don’t tell anyone!
Least of all Sarah, who had organised different stations around the room, with verses that picked up on the prayers of Jesus in Luke’s gospel. We were encouraged to spend the time quietly and move around the different parts of the room. I went to the first one, sat down and read these words: “When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow.” (Luke 22:45) I didn’t move on. This was where I needed to be.
Now, this is the advent season, so why am I taking us to the scenes that belong more to Holy Week? Well, let’s make a connection. You see, I had never ‘seen’ those words before. Of course, I have read this passage many times. I know the story well, and I knew they fell asleep because they couldn’t stay awake. But I had never seen that they were exhausted from sorrow.
Fast forward a couple of millennia, and arguably much of the world today is what the disciples were then – exhausted from sorrow. That may not be your experience, but it is the experience of many who long to live their lives in peace and tranquillity, with a reasonable dollop of hope, yet circumstances mean they cannot do so.
They long to live in such a way that they feel secure, that their kids can get a half-decent education, or see a doctor reasonably easy when they’re sick. They long to see jobs out there that their children can aim for. They’re fearful lest their pension, if they have one at all, isn't enough to live on.
They want to know how they can be free from the sin that niggles away from their conscience and the despair that sucks the joy out of their very marrow.
They may want to know what life is about, and given half the chance they may even want to know if there is a God at all, let alone one that loves them.
And that’s the link to Advent because the primary response to these feelings, yearnings, hopes and frustrations is not a philosophy, and certainly not a political agenda nor a development programme.
The answer is a person, one who enters the human story the way we enter the story, as a babe. And the significance is that from that starting point as an infant he embodies (good word in this context) all our stories.
So if we want to know how to start, then start at Christmas for it’s the part of the divine story that almost all people understand. That’s why Carol services and once-in-a-year church attendance are OK. People come – drawn by something they can’t quite name.
Ordinary people. Exhausted people. People exhausted from sorrow.