The supreme irony of American Christmas is that the very themes we celebrate with Christ’s coming–love, joy, peace–are the virtues most egregiously compromised this season. Many families gather only to see old bitterness emerge rather than love. The pressure to find the right gifts yields misery rather than joy. And the pace at which events, planning, and shopping max out our schedule takes us away from peace to a place of stress.
Perhaps the most compromised Christian virtue during this season is rest. We do not always think of rest in the same category as love, joy, and peace, but at one level rest is at the root of all these experiences. Following Israel’s exodus, rest was God’s command in the form of the Sabbath, a day in which they were to remember God’s rest from creation and the rest God gave them in rescuing them from Egypt and giving them a home in the Promised Land. This weekly pause from subduing the earth was to be the source of love, joy, and peace.
Likewise, in Christ we have an entirely new level of rest to be enjoyed. Much more than rescuing us from Egyptian slavery, God has rescued us from slavery to Satan and sin. Much more than giving us a land in the Middle East, God has promised us a recreated, New Heaven and New Earth. Much more than one day per week, God has promised us an eternity to rest in his work for us. God has accomplished all of this through his Son, Jesus, whose birth we celebrate during this absurdly restless season.
In talking about this rest, the author of Hebrews gives us a paradoxical command: “strive to enter that rest” (Hebrews 4:11). This is a profound word, reinforcing that the most difficult thing we as humans can do is to stop trying and start trusting. Rest requires work. We only taste the fruit of Christ’s labor when we stop laboring to produce fruit on our own.
Applied to this season, the word for us is to enter into the rest that this baby born in Bethlehem came to bring us. As counter-intuitive as it is to pause and rest during this scurrying season, if we do not create space to rest in Christ’s work for us, we will not celebrate Christ at all. He has been born to do for us what we could not do for ourselves, so in light of his birth, life, death, and resurrection, let us rest in him and receive all the gifts he has purchased for us.