Come unto me, all ye who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
This boot camp conditioning teacher is also one who can comfort and encourage when the challenges of life seem too much for us. Over the past several weeks of Advent I've have conversations with a number of people who are in different kinds of pain during this season. They all can't wait till the season is over, but for different reasons. Some are feeling the pain of being overstressed by the overcrowded quality of the season: too many parties, too many presents to buy, too many people to remember. Some are feeling the pain of being depressed because they are no longer at the center of life, but on the sidelines. There are few parties and not as many friends as one would like to give presents to and receive presents from. Still others are feeling the pain of being distressed by grief stirred up by the vision of idyllic family gatherings that bombard us at Christmas.
I was talking to one woman whose husband died last year in November. "We were at my daughter's Homecoming at college. We went back to the hotel and went to bed. When I fell asleep, he was there beside me. When I woke up, he was still beside me, but he was gone."
Another woman told of going to her room and crying when she found out her son wasn't planning to come home for Christmas.
A man, with pain in his voice, wondered why grown children had to punish their parents by not letting them see their grandchildren at Christmas.
In all three conversations, in response to my attempt at comforting words and a pat on the shoulder, the person said, with a rueful shake of their head, "Don't be nice to me. It'll just make me weak." I was a bit taken aback at a threefold rebuff. Maybe my comforting skills have become rusty. Or maybe these people need a comfort at Christmas that only God can bring.
Fortunately we have in Jesus, the Word made flesh, a teacher and a savior who is willing to "bring it." He has come to challenge us to engage in the rigorous exercise of showing his love and light to the world. And he has come to comfort us with that same love and light.