All Is Calm: Scripture’s Radical Call To Rest During Advent
THE FERVOR AT church during the Advent season is a remarkable sight. Both clergy and laity work like the shepherds, tending to their flocks late into the night. And many move like the wise men, traveling to foreign places and spending extensive resources to celebrate Christ’s arrival with family.
This time of heightened activity makes sense given the story of scripture and the story of our current world. The shepherds could not help but tell others once they learned of the Savior’s birth. And as we now await his return, we should work hard to share the riches of the nativity with a world that is a little more open to matters of faith at this time of year.
But if increased activity is the only melody we pick up from the nativity story told in Matthew and Luke, we neglect a needful counterpoint: the importance of rest. The nativity story is replete with theological, familial, and political lessons about rest that quietly proclaim God’s goodness to this weary world. With exhaustion rampant in the church — perhaps especially so at Christmastime — we would do well to hear notes of rest sounding from the manger.
1. Listen to your sleep
GOD USES SLEEP as a vehicle for saving Joseph’s family (Matthew 1:18-25). God instructs Joseph to honor his marriage to Mary because her pregnancy was not a sign of infidelity. To the contrary, it was a sign of immense devotion to God. Furthermore, this miracle child would save all his people, including his parents, from their actual sins, as opposed to their alleged ones. In obedience, Joseph listened to the message heard in his sleep and thus participated in God’s saving of his family.
Through this dream, God helped Joseph navigate the tension between commitment to religious expectation and commitment to family — a tension prominent in the life of church leaders during busy times of the year such as Advent. Can you be faithful to your public ministry life and to your family equally, or does one have to give way to the other? I am thankful to be the son of a pastor who intentionally maintained her family life alongside her ministry life (Rev. Adonna Davis Reid pastors First United Methodist Church of Oak Park in Chicagoland). But I know that for many families, the demands of ministry can lead to distance between spouses as well as distance between parents and children, sometimes causing enduring harm.
If you ever face this tension over priorities, try looking to Joseph’s example for guidance. Joseph reminds us that God is ultimately in control and that we have a role in the story because God chooses to involve us. God told Joseph that his seed was not needed but that he was still part of God’s salvific plan. Joseph could have ignored this dream and divorced Mary anyway, but he instead listened to the instruction heard during sleep. As earthly father to the child of the Holy Spirit and Mary, he would always remember that ministry is not ultimately by or about him.
So it is with us: The God who protects us when we are drooling on our pillow is the same God who freely chooses to use us. These lessons from Joseph’s sleep can keep needless weight off our shoulders during Advent and Christmas — which, funnily enough, might help us sleep better at night.
As you sleep, if you are one who remembers your dreams, can you gain insights from them about your family? Another angle is to think about your last thought before you nod off or your first thought in the morning. (The psalms routinely talk about how our nighttime self-monologue is a good place to hear instruction from God.) You might find God helping you hold together your commitment to your public ministry and to your family the way God did for Joseph.
I pray that your family ties are stronger this Advent because of how you listen to God through sleep. And as those ties are strengthened, may fruit come that blesses the world. Because Joseph listened to God through his sleep, he was able to participate in God’s deepest vision of rest: the saving of creation from the restlessness wrought by sin.