How does a weary world rejoice?

How does a weary world rejoice? December 10, 2023

Photo by Sixteen Miles Out

If you know me you know I’m not one to shy away from difficult questions. I like to sit in the tension of the in-between the asking and the answering. I think that nebulous place is important. The one where it is impossible to be certain, and sincere thoughtfulness is the only required response.

Last month my dear friend, who is also the senior pastor of a beautiful church in Southern California, asked me if I would spend a little bit of time via zoom during a special service speaking to the question, “How does a weary world rejoice?” I immediately answered back, “yes!” And it wasn’t because I knew I had the perfect answer or even an answer at all. It was because I loved the question and it seems to be an important one to ask now more than ever.

This wasn’t a question where the church could wrap up a nice little platitude with a bow and serve it up to satisfy anxious masses. There is no quick fix Bible verse or anecdotal story coming to the rescue when it comes to this important and timely question inviting us to be honest about the state of our world and how our faith my speak to it. How can our faith make good on its promise to bring tidings of comfort and joy.

If our faith can’t wrestle with a question like this then what’s the point?

This idea of a weary world rejoicing made me think back to a quintessential moment in my life, my faith, and in my journey with Christ, god, religion, and the posture of my heart towards the whole thing.

It was about 15 years ago. I was sat in the front of a church service that met in a corner shop in downtown Minneapolis. It was a December evening. Snow was falling and you could it see it glimmering in the glow of the city street lamps. The windows were practically floor to ceiling and you could behold the downtown skyline. It truly was Christmas time in the city. The worship band started to sing “O Holy Night.”

And as we sang,

“Long lay the world, in sin and error pining

Til he appeared and the soul felt its worth

A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices…”

And then something unexpected happened. 

My eyes began to well up with tears and I started to cry.

Because in that moment I had a very real sense of the invitation that the gospel was actually making.

At the time I was a few years into my seminary journey. I was in my mid twenties and I was shifting from an Evangelical, individualist, ‘Jesus in my heart’ scenario to a deep understanding of the communal and cosmic nature of Christianity, the invitation it extends to all of us, and the hope beyond hope offered and present. 

My world had gotten so much bigger, my mind was expanding, my heart was exploding, I had a new excitement and insatiable hunger for more, pushing past the barriers of the nice yet judgeful Jesus seated on a throne in heaven, to a radical, min-boggling, all loving, all encompassing, unconditional, and practically impossible, defying-every-odd Jesus that blew all expectation I ever had right out of the water.

So, yes. I started to cry upon hearing the words sung, as if to herald, “a thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices.” 

I knew that Jesus had done this. That somehow this was the thrill of hope a sleeping and weary world had waited for, needed, and dreamt of. And now the world rejoices, called out of its slumber and even amid the weariness of the wait.

I could see it so clearly and it was beautiful. Hope in the midst of hopelessness. Hope in the midst of devastation. Hope in the midst of never ending loss.

It has been a good 15 years between that moment and me. But the gravity and the substance of it has never faded. Because when we are given the gift of hope we hold onto it and we don’t let it go.

But also I knew that moment wasn’t just about me or for me. The message of hope was and is universal, and it belongs to all of us.

Nick Cave recently did an interview with Krista Tippett and her ‘On Being’ podcast entitled, “Loss, Yearning, Transcendence.” She engaged him on his book, Faith, Hope, and Carnage. It is the result of dozens of hours of conversations during lock down with famed journalist, Seán O’Hagan. I think it is fair to say it is a poignant books about loss.

Cave opens up his conversation with Tippett by beginning to answer her question as to why he was attracted to Christianity, particularly as a young boy. He answers with the scene of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Here we find Jesus praying and a God that had withdrawn his favor. Cave relates to this and finds it “a compelling story and very beautiful too, and very human.”

He says, “The sense of yearning, the sense of being tethered to the earth but reaching beyond ourselves is the story of everyone one in a way.”

This idea of wanting more, feeling and knowing we were made for more, but perhaps our circumstances and the circumstances around us don’t always reflect that.

Cave goes on to say this about loss,

“It feels to me that loss is our universal star as human beings. I disagree with the sort of ‘grief club’ and the club no one wants to join. I think humanity itself is that club and that we are all feeling these senses of loss, whether it’s directly personal, it’s bred into us, that sense of yearning. And that’s not a failure. It’s a condition.”

I would add not only is it not a failure, not only is it a condition, but it is a gift. 

And I think this is where the hope lies of me. This is where I rejoice in the weariness of it all. Because it is what connects us all. And it is what brings us together in community. Because we simply can’t do it alone. I don’t want to do it alone. I want to need you and I want you to need me. When we yearn, we yearn together and when we reach, we reach together. And when we actually grab hold of that which is beyond us we find it is each other. 

And the thing about it all is that Christ modeled this for us. He showed us what it meant to be in right relationship with one another, He showed us the value and the transformative effects of gathering together, and not just coming or assembling together, but what it means to be in genuine oneness and true community.

This is hope in a weary world—a world marked by loss and suffering. Because this doesn’t change. The weariness, the loss, it is always there. It doesn’t actually go away. It is our condition, as Cave reminds us. The variable is how we show up in the face of it and inspire of it, for ourselves and for each other.

We get to be that hope in a weary world and we get to rejoice with others in that hope we announce to each other everyday.

It isn’t easy and it isn’t straightforward, but it is beautiful and it is human and it is our journey together. 

Some thoughts on hope for you this Christmas. Sending them all your way…

About Maria Francesca French
A post-Christian thinker and writer, the tenure of her career has been in theological education, as both professor and administrator. She is author of "Safer than the Known Way: A Post-Christian Journey" and "Reconfiguring: A Collection of Post-Christian Thoughts and Theologies." Maria has also worked in innovative church contexts, church planting and denominational leadership. She is focused on the intersections of faith and culture, offering new forums for faith engagement and theological imaginations that are viable and sustainable for an uncertain future. Find her teaching, coaching, and writing on her Patreon and check out her website for more. You can read more about the author here.

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