Though not wealthy myself, I live in one of the wealthier counties in Tennessee. For a great majority of folks here, and across the country, this Christmas will be much like it has been: family, friends, celebrations, donations, food drives, coat and shoe drives, and angel trees. We’ll have pleas from the pulpit to remember what Christmas is really about and grumblings about the secularization of our Holiday. As we attend church, shop, and go to neighborhood parties things will look reassuringly familiar, many having escaped the worst of the economic wreck.
But there are many who have been hurt. You’ll see them but never know it. They fight, claw, and scratch to recover but it’s slow going. It’s a difficult and- in a community like this- sometimes lonely battle. There is pressure to keep up appearances, continue to give kids all the opportunities their classmates enjoy, and making sacrifices that others don’t really notice. It means underemployment, attempts at self employment, part time and temporary jobs. If you are, or have ever been, through a Christmas under these circumstances you know that the emotional pressure intensifies. You’ve worried about disappointing your kids, wondering if they will understand, worrying how they’ll handle the question at school, “what did you get?”. Worry and fear grow like kudzu.
And so while friends and neighbors are having another wonderful evening around the tree and the nativity scene, you’re face down in the dirt, at Gethsemane.
32 They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33 He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. 34 “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.” 35 Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. 36 “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Mark 14:32-36(a)
Around His entire group of followers Jesus would appear to be as He always has been. When He is alone with his closest friends He shares how he feels, and when He is finally alone He literally hits the ground, in His words, distressed, troubled, overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. You see, the moment he knew was coming had now arrived in the form of Judas and the guards. Anticipating an event and its arrival are very different experiences and it drove Jesus to His knees.
This same progression- normal appearances, confiding in a few close friends, and then hitting the floor of the closet, bedroom, bathroom, wherever- is playing out everyday. Worry, fear, anxiety, and hopelessness rule the hour.
If you find yourself in the garden of Gethsemane this season please let me offer you these thoughts.
We as a church don’t spend enough time teaching Jesus the man, in my opinion. Reread the passage. He is us. He was not playacting. What he felt and asked was as real and sincere as what you feel and ask. Take hope in the fact that however desperate it feels when you’re alone, Jesus was in the same place. He went on to save the world.
The Father did not take the cup from Jesus. He may not take the cup from you. So what’s next? I suppose Jesus could have escaped or stayed on the ground pleading while the guards took him into custody. Instead we see history’s greatest act of courage. I like to imagine the scene playing out this way: on His hands and knees, having asked the Father to spare him what’s ahead, Jesus suddenly quiets, gathers Himself and begins to rise. Standing ramrod straight with a steely, determined gaze upward, a decision is made;
“Yet not what I will, but what You will.” Mark 14:36(b)
And as He turns and steps into His Moment, history is changed. Read the rest of the chapter and compare Jesus on His knees in the garden and Jesus as he faces his suffering and death. What stands between them is a decision of obedience and faith. Worry and anxiety often take root in the absence of decision.
It’s OK to be on the floor this Christmas. But the lesson seems to be if you can summon the courage, don’t wait for the guards; rise, turn and walk into your moment what ever it may be and come what may. God is with you.