Faith Matters: Let our weary world rejoice

The Rev. Candi Ashenden of the Athol Congregational Church.

The Rev. Candi Ashenden of the Athol Congregational Church. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ


Senior pastor, Athol Congregational Church

Published: 12-15-2023 10:23 PM

We are now right in the middle of the Advent season and also in the middle of the frenzied holiday rush. We are trying desperately to find the joy in the season as we shop for gifts, or help others out, or begin to consider baking special treats, or anticipate family visits. But if we aren’t careful, the busyness, compounded with the nightly news where we constantly hear about incidents of gun violence, house fires, the war in Ukraine, the conflict in Israel and Palestine, etc., threatens to overwhelm us and rob us of the joy of the season.

That’s why, in our church, we are focusing on ways in which “the weary world rejoices” For many of us — dare I say most of us — are weary for one reason or another.

One of the faith stories of this season is about Zechariah and Elizabeth, an old couple who had long been infertile. As the years waned on, hope for this couple slowly extinguished like a candle deprived of oxygen, and they found themselves at the age of grandparents without the family of which they had dreamed.

Then, out of the blue, an angel comes to Zechariah with a promise of good news … they will, in fact, soon have a child … a son (who will be John the Baptist). But Zechariah’s weariness at life and his incredulity at the message means he can’t fully receive it, and thus cannot fully embrace the joy of the moment. God sees this and casts him into silence for the duration of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, perhaps to give him time to reflect on the true blessing he is receiving. In what was likely one of the most joyous moments of Zechariah’s life, his weariness got in the way and he missed the full import of the joy.

I’m sure most of us can relate to that experience. How often does our weariness get in the way? I know that, at times, mine does, in both big and small ways. Sometimes weariness can harden us and prevent us from living fully. Being sick can make us weary. Our hard life journeys can make us weary. Grief leaves a scar on us that makes us weary. So it makes sense that this is how we show up to Advent — weary. And if this is how you are feeling right now, trust me, you are not alone.

The question is: what do we do about it? Although weary themselves, Zechariah and Elizabeth persisted in being faithful and in fulfilling the duties of priest, husband, wife and homemaker, respectively. And, ultimately, a moment of joy burst into their lives.

Going about their daily business and being the best people they could be worked for them, and it can work for us today, too. It really is true that God never tires of carrying our weariness and that God can break through it and offer moments of joy, if only we let that happen.

I am trying to step back this December and ask myself, what weariness do I carry in my body and soul? What does it look like for me to rejoice when I am weary? Perhaps you will join me in these Advent questions because I hope that, if we are paying attention, we will all discover small bursts of joy even in the midst of our weariness. We will see how God shows up for us again and again even when times are hard. And we will train ourselves to look at our lives and our world through the lens of hope because that perspective changes us for the happier.

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This Advent season, I invite you to consider the ways in which you let weariness get in the way of your joy. Are there limiting narratives about your life that you have resigned yourself to? Have you convinced yourself that you aren’t “deserving” of happiness? Has the slog through daily life worn you down? These things happen to all of us from time to time. Perhaps, if you open your mind and heart a bit more, you will begin to see how God is, even now, disrupting those beliefs of yours and inviting you to live into a new story. Amen.

Athol Congregational Church, UCC is a local community of faith that is “small enough to know you, large enough to serve.” The church is currently offering in-person worship as well as Facebook livestream services. It also offers long-distance Reiki through certified practitioners. The Athol Congregational Church is located at 1225 Chestnut St. and can be reached by phone at 978-249-6202.