The Weary World Rejoices

“For we know that the whole creation groans together and travails in pain together until now.” Romans 8:22, Darby Translation

“It was, of course, the memory of Sophie and Nathan’s long-ago plunge that set loose this flood [of tears], but it was also a letting go of rage and sorrow for the many others who during these past months had battered at my mind and now demanded my mourning…who were but a few of the beaten and butchered and betrayed and martyred children of the earth.” William Styron, Sophie’s Choice

In 1893, a young Norwegian artist named Edvard Munch produced a piece he called “The Scream of Nature” that depicts not only a human screaming, hands clasped to face, but also a convulsing, indeed travailing, sky and sea. Needless to say, the painting is disturbing and so dramatic that its elements appear to be in motion. One wonders what melancholic insight moved a painter to express such anguish, but that scream must resonate with a lot of people because the painting is very famous.

In his novel, The Garden of Eden, Ernest Hemingway wrote, “Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know.” Another writer, Virginia Woolf, had this similar thought, “The beauty of the world, which is so soon to perish, has two edges, one of laughter, one of anguish, cutting the heart asunder.” The great comic and tragic irony is that even people who manage to miss the worst the curse has to offer arrive at the same destination as those who do not: Death. It is this ultimate pointlessness that prompts Hemingway’s and Woolf’s observations. Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Church in New York City, discusses this far more lucidly than I can in his 2015 series Questioning Christianity. Skeptics welcome.

There are too many sad stories in the world to tell them all, be they fact or fiction. Just this month I saw Manchester by the Sea, a film beautifully shot on Cape Ann, Mass—one of my favorite places—that tells the story of a young man trapped in pain so great he barely endures day to day. He’s very quiet and still, most of the time, but by the end of the film the viewer has no doubt Munch painted his soul and its landscape.

A couple of summers ago, I went to the Dallas Market with my friend Sue who owns a retail shop, The Lily Field. Sue was shopping for Christmas merchandise for the upcoming season. That’s a funny thing about retailers—they must plan for the season that’s still half a year away. So, we were strolling through the temporary displays when we came upon a vendor with some rustic wooden signs. There was this one small sign, about fifteen by fifteen, white letters on a black background, propped against some others. The sign read simply, “The Weary World Rejoices.” That brief phrase in the midst of all the hustle and bustle of Market stopped us in our tracks. Not a word was said, but we both teared up at the relief that had come in the person of Jesus.

When the child who had been born in a stable in Bethlehem—heralded by angels (Luke 2) and whom prophets had foretold (Isaiah 9:6)—when that child had grown into a man, he introduced himself to the world with these words,

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me,
Because the Lord has anointed Me
To preach good tidings to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives,
And the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord,
And the day of vengeance of our God;
To comfort all who mourn,
To console those who mourn in Zion,
To give them beauty for ashes,
The oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
That they may be called trees of righteousness,
The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.

There are countless people whose pain Jesus has taken. These beaten and butchered and betrayed and martyred children of the earth somehow found the Christ and in an intimate exchange that no other person can comprehend or ever take away, they received beauty for ashes, joy for mourning, praise for heaviness, and their broken hearts were healed. They went on to live healthy, fulfilled lives. You may not know who they are because they don’t talk about what happened. It was between them and the Christ. I know. I’m one of them.

O Holy Night!
The stars are brightly shining,

It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining.
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn. 

Fall on your knees!
Oh, hear the angel voices!

O night divine
O night when Christ was born;

O night divine!
O night, O night divine!

Led by the light of faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.
So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming,
Here come the wise men from the Orient land.
The King of kings lay thus in lowly manger;
In all our trials born to be our friend.

He knows our need!
Our weakness is no stranger,
Behold your King!
Before him lowly bend!

Behold your King!
Before him lowly bend!

Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains He shall break, for the slave is our brother.
And in His name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
With all our hearts we praise His holy name.

Christ is the Lord!
We ever, ever praise Him! 

His power and glory ever more proclaim!
His power and glory ever more proclaim!

 

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