Many of our congregation members these days must deal with health issues. This is especially so in congregations that have many seniors. Your church too may be struggling with ailments of various kinds. How might our being in Advent speak to all this?
Let’s see if the well-known story (John 11) of the resurrection of Lazarus speaks to this question. You’ll remember that Jesus and his disciples were near the Jordan river, some distance away from Bethany where his friends Lazarus, Martha and Mary lived, when Jesus heard that Lazarus had died. Two days later, Jesus traveled to Bethany to, as he said, “wake up his friend Lazarus.”
When Jesus came to Bethany, he met on the road a clearly distraught Martha. Then, quoting from the New International Version,
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
Remarkable words! What kind of human being would speak like this? Indeed, the “I AM” suggests that Jesus is no mere human being, because God had told Moses that God's name is "I AM" (Exodus 3:14).
Many of us deal daily with health ailments or are troubled in other ways. If Jesus were to tell each of us “whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”, how would we respond?
Martha answers Jesus: “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”
An amazing response. Martha’s brother died four days ago, and she speaks like that?
Let’s look at her words for a moment, and especially at that word Messiah. These days of Advent we remember the birth of that Messiah, his coming into this world. The title “Messiah” takes us back to the Old Testament, where it originated. It refers to “anointed,” and with the passing of centuries it slowly came to mean “anointed with the Spirit of God.” It also came to refer to a specific person, The Messiah.
Also, with the passing of time, as Israel encountered many burdens, including those imposed by occupying nations, the word Messiah came to express an intense yearning for better days, for redemption from those burdens, for freedom.
Early in the NT, we see that deep yearning for redemption, for relief, in the songs of Zechariah, and of Mary, and in the words of Simeon and Anna in the temple.
Today, we too can yearn for redemption, for better days, for relief from the burdens we face, and the difficulties we see around us, also in our disability ministry. As the song laments: How long, O Lord?
So, it takes faith to celebrate the birth of the Messiah, so many centuries ago. Has he really come? We may wonder, why is the world such a mess if the Messiah has already come?
But we, with untold many other Christians, do believe and celebrate these Advent days that the Messiah, the Son of God, has truly come. When we deal with grief, with health ailments and other difficulties, we take comfort from God’s word, and sense his presence in the comforting presence of those of his people who travel with us.
So, the redemption that is ours through the coming of the Messiah comes in part through the ways we care with each other.
Still, our yearning for more remains. How long, O Lord?