“A weary world rejoices…” You might think I borrowed those words from a recent headline unless you are familiar with the great songs of Christmas. Actually, the line comes from one of the most famous Christmas carols, “O Holy Night.” The poem was written in 1847, almost two hundred years ago, by a French poet who had been asked by his priest to compose something for Christmas mass. The poet liked his words so well that he gave them to a Jewish friend who was a well-known composer, but celebrated neither Christmas nor Jesus. Funny how God works isn’t it?!
I’m not sure what was going on in the south of France in 1847 to lead Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure to describe his world at that time as “weary,” but I’m well aware of what has caused our weariness in 2020. We’ve been shut down and kept apart. We’ve been robbed of weddings and funerals. Loved ones have died and we’ve not been able to be with them. Jobs have been lost and it wasn’t due to poor performance. Businesses and churches have closed for good when one year ago we thought things were going really well. Uncertainty has become almost certain.
All of this has been caused by a virus we cannot see, but have certainly experienced and continue to experience. And the uncertainty just keeps coming. Just last week the first shipments of the vaccine came to America and within days, literally days, we heard of a new strain of Covid that has now hit the UK that they say is 50-70% more contagious than the virus we now know. They don’t think it is more deadly, but they don’t know for certain. They don’t think it will be resistant to the vaccine, but they don’t know for certain. Uncertainty will continue to be absolutely certain in the New Year. I’ve not even mentioned the insanity that unfolded with the election and the racial unrest and flooded our streets for months on end last summer.
Many tonight are not rejoicing, they are merely living in a weary world, weighed down with their weary existence. They are worn out by the constant barrage over the last 10 months of life’s troubles. They have been crawling towards Christmas with nothing to hope in or to look forward to, but we, you and me, we are not those people. We have refused to succumb to hopelessness, not because we are better people or because there’s nothing going on in our own lives to make us hopeless. We are experiencing the woes of this weary world like everyone else, but we remain hopeful, full of hope, because of Jesus, the One who willingly entered this weary world for you and me. We are here tonight to celebrate His birth!
You can’t trace the beginnings of weariness back to March of this year. You can’t even trace it back to France in 1847. Those who were living before Jesus was born were weary. We can read about the weariness of life in the pages of the Old Testament through the stories of Abraham, Joseph, Job, David, Elijah, and so many others. When we come to the end of the Old Testament, the book of Malachi, we need to dog-ear the page and write “400 years of silence.” That’s how many years passed between Malachi and the coming of Jesus written about in the Gospels. In those 400 years not one new prophet of God arrived on the scene and said, “Thus saith the LORD!” The silence was deafening.
And then we come to the time when the announcement was made to Mary that she would give birth to a Son and He would be King, the long-awaited Messiah. Mary was not married. Today that might not make any difference at all, but it certainly did in Mary’s day. Mary had to have been weary with the looks she received and the comments she heard. And then there’s Joseph. He knew he had never been with Mary so when he heard the news he decided to break things off…quietly. Joseph loved Mary, he didn’t want to drag her name and reputation through the streets, so he decided he would keep the situation low key and just end it. Then an angel appeared to Joseph,
20 As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20-21 NLT)
That’s great news, but the tough times wouldn’t end with the angel’s proclamation. Mary didn’t start a blog to chronicle her experience during her months of pregnancy so we don’t know anything about it except that she went to visit her cousin Elizabeth early on in her pregnancy. Listen to what Luke writes,
41 At the sound of Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s child leaped within her, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 Elizabeth gave a glad cry and exclaimed to Mary, “God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed. 43 Why am I so honored, that the mother of my Lord should visit me? 44 When I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. 45 You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said.” (Luke 1:41-45 NLT)
The only other thing we know about Mary’s pregnancy is that she and Joseph had to travel ninety miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem for the census, just as Mary was about to deliver. The trip, made on the back of a donkey and with a very pregnant wife, had to have taken over a week. They would travel along the Jordan River valley for part of the time, but they’d also have to travel over rocky, mountainous terrain that Mary thought would never end. There were wild animals, bandits, and there’s no doubt the expectant mom, who was already weary, grew even more weary…and Joseph watched every word he said along the way.
Ninety miles on the back of a donkey, but eventually they arrived in Bethlehem to find the village was full of folks who had traveled there for the census. Thanks to Joseph’s careful planning the couple checked into an incredible AirBnb that Joseph had booked online! You know the story, and that’s not how it goes. When Jesus was born Mary laid Him in a feeding trough for animals. Think of that picture. The God of glory chose the most humble of beginnings. Oh the joy that flooded Mary’s soul when she held Jesus in her arms. If only time would have stood still from that day on.
The most powerful man in the land, Herod the Great, who was given the title, “King of the Jews,” by the Roman Senate, caught wind that a Newborn King of the Jews had been born. Matthew tells us how it came about. Turn with me to Matthew 2:1-3 and let’s read together.
1 Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, 2 “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.” 3 King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. (Matthew 2:1-3 NLT)
Just five verses later, Herod told them to come back and let him know when they found the Newborn King so he could go and worship Him. Truth is, Herod didn’t want to worship Jesus, he wanted to kill Jesus just as he had set out to kill everyone he perceived to be a threat. Let me give you just a slice of Herod so you’ll better understand his determination to eliminate all threats to his throne.
In the early years of his reign, which began in 37 B.C., Herod led an army of 36,000 to conquer Jerusalem. He captured many Jews and handed them over to the Romans who executed them. Herod also killed 46 members of the Jewish Sanhedrin. To try to soothe Herod’s reign of terror, a young Jewish princess, Mariamne, was offered by her mother to Herod to be his wife. Mariamne was beautiful and Herod was mesmerized by her. Things started going south when Mariamne lobbied to have her younger brother Aristobulus named as High Priest of the Temple. Herod gave in, but when Aristobulus became wildly popular with the Jews, Herod had him conveniently drowned in a pool in Jericho. Herod thought the death of Aristobulus would end any threat from the Jews to take over his throne.
Just a few years later, Herod’s sister Salome became increasingly jealous of Mariamne and she plotted to get rid of her. She told her brother that Mariamne had been unfaithful to him, she planned to poison him, and take the throne for her Jewish family. Herod had Mariamne killed along with her mother, grandfather, and two of the sons he had with Mariamne.
Herod had more power than he could have ever hoped to have had and yet he was so insecure, always looking over his shoulder to find the next threat to his throne, even if the perceived threat was a newborn baby. So, when he got word that a Newborn King of the Jews had been born, Herod set his sights on ridding himself of the threat. He had told the wisemen to come back and let him know where they had found the newborn king so he could go and worship him, but when he realized that wasn’t going to happen, Herod was furious! Matthew tells us,
16 Herod was furious when he realized that the wise men had outwitted him. He sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, based on the wise men’s report of the star’s first appearance. (Matthew 2:16 NLT)
You can add this to the evidence of the weary world in which we live. Can you imagine the sorrow of those families who lost a little boy because of the madness of Herod? Thankfully, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and told him to take his wife and child and flee to Egypt where they stayed until Herod died (Matthew 2:13-15).
It wasn’t just Mary and Joseph who were weary from the plot of Herod to kill Jesus. Jesus Himself would become weary during His life from all of the troubles He would face on a regular basis. His own people, the people for whom He had come to literally give His life, wanted to kill Him. Over and over again throughout the Gospels we read about the attempts of the Jewish religious leaders to try and kill Jesus. They were so desperate that Mark tells us the Pharisees aligned themselves with the supporters of Herod’s household to finally rid the world of Jesus. Jesus had just healed a man with a withered hand on the sabbath when Mark writes,
6 At once the Pharisees went away and met with the supporters of Herod to plot how to kill Jesus. (Mark 3:6 NLT)
What is the saying, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” This is exactly what was happening with the Pharisees and the household of Herod. They had nothing in common, as a matter of fact, the Pharisees despised the Romans and their rule over Jerusalem, but if they could help in getting rid of Jesus, then let’s make it happen.
Long before Jesus was born, about 700 years before His birth, God gave the prophet Isaiah a picture of the coming Messiah. I find it so interesting that in that description, found in Isaiah 53, we read these words,
3 He was despised and rejected– a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care. (Isaiah 53:3 NLT)
Jesus was not only born into a weary world, but He must have become weary Himself…He was “a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.” I wonder what could have caused Jesus’ deepest grief? I don’t think there’s any question: It must have been the sin that had so permeated the world and blinded the eyes of those He came to save that they would willingly, enthusiastically crucify Him just so they could get rid of Him. But there were also those who loved Jesus, followed Jesus, and wept for Jesus when He died. They had no idea then, but in three short days they would learn that He is not dead–He is alive! And all of those who loved Him rejoiced with the news!
One of those who despised Jesus and His followers was a man named Saul, from Tarsus. He despised everything about Jesus and His followers until he met Jesus on the road to Damascus. His life would never be the same again. Paul’s eyes were opened and he would later write,
21 For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. (2 Corinthians 5:21 NLT)
Jesus is the One! He is the One sent from God, God in the flesh, the One who loves us so much that He willingly took our place so that we might have the opportunity to be forgiven and made right with God. This is the Good News that can enable a weary world to rejoice! If you are with us tonight and you’ve been so, so weary, then I want to encourage you to look to Jesus, He is our joy, our comfort, our strength in this weary world.
I’m certain that there are many who are with us tonight, either here in the sanctuary or watching online, who are so weary with all you’ve gone through, all you may be having to deal with even now. I don’t know what is at the top of your Christmas list for tomorrow morning, but I do know this: If I could give you just one gift it would be the gift of the awareness of Jesus in your life. He was born in Bethlehem, lived His life in and around the Galilee and Jerusalem, was crucified outside of Jerusalem on a hill called Calvary, rose from the dead and now sits at the right hand of the Father, but He is with you. He is with you. He’s with you.
Kathy Escobar is a pastor in Denver, Colorado. On October 25th of last year she told two of her best friends that the past 18 months had been the first time in 27 years of parenting that she and her husband could breathe a little easier. They were loving the empty nest, all five of their kids were doing well, and she and her husband had a great relationship with each one.
On October 28, just three days later, the police showed up on her doorstep to tell her their fifth child, Jared, just two weeks short of his 20th birthday, had committed suicide in his dorm room. Three weeks later Kathy wrote,
21 days without his bright light, his “I love you, Mom” texts, his wild and beautiful life on this earth.
21 days of unbearable grief.
21 days of barely being able to breathe.
21 days of finding no apparent clues what took him under that deeply that morning when everything in his life was forward-looking, connected, and living and leading in his areas of passion.
21 days of despair.
I have known many people who have lost someone they loved more than life to suicide. In their grief they want answers to the question of “Why?” I encourage them not to seek those answers because even if they learned the real reason it wouldn’t make sense. Instead of seeking answers, I encourage them to seek the comfort and strength that is available to them in Jesus. Kathy Escobar has written a book called “A Weary World: Reflections for a Blue Christmas. In her book, the aftermath of her great loss, she writes,
At this stage of my life, I’ve shed much rigid and damaging theology, and my faith has been stripped down to a place where there’s so much I really don’t know and don’t try to know anymore that some people might wonder if anything’s even left. What remains seems to be all I need, and I am finding that it’s sustaining us through our darkest night. I have had one simple truth remain—Emmanuel, God with us. It’s a prevailing belief that somehow, someway, God is indeed with us in the muck and mire of our current realities—with us, alongside us, in, around, through, above, and below us. Jesus, God in the flesh, embodying the way of Love from which we can learn.
I don’t know the source of your weariness tonight, but I know Emmanuel, the One who is with us. He is not distant this night, He is closer to you than your next breath. Because we live in a weary world you and I will be confronted with so much that can crush us, wear us out, and leave us lifeless, but He is Emmanuel, the One who is with us. He. Is. With. You. And because of this we can rejoice in His presence, in His comfort, in His strength, and in His promise to never leave us or forsake us. He is Emmanuel.
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
December 24, 2020