January 15, 2023
There are a lot of differences between Wisconsin and North Carolina, but one of the biggest differences I’ve experienced, I think, is winter. It’s not just that it gets colder, or that here we get snow every year, or that there are people who take their trucks onto the frozen surface of a river to set up a shack and fish. It’s also how much shorter the days get. True, the days got shorter down south too, but it feels like an entirely different level up here. It’s almost as if the very creation is emphasizing how the winter almost invites us to cozy up with a blanket and, like the bears and squirrels, hibernate until the sun comes back.
Creation sure does seem to reflect a certain willingness to rest, doesn’t it? In this season of shorter days and longer nights, colder weather and limited options for activity, nature answers and slows down. The trees lose their leaves and go dormant. Animals find burrows and nests where they curl up and hibernate for the colder months. The soil takes a break from growing everything from crops to wildflowers underneath a literal blanket of snow. So when we hear from Exodus this morning how God is explaining the reason behind the Sabbath—the day of rest—God cites how all of creation came into being in six days, and then God rested on the seventh. Rest is built into the very fabric of creation!
How do we live into creation’s own invitation to rest? We may be the crowning achievement of God’s creation, but we are still part of it. God’s call to rest for creation’s sake still applies to us. What would it look like to reflect the way that nature takes a break during these shorter days of winter and slow down for a bit?
Jesus, who is God-with-us, showed us one way in our gospel reading this morning. It’s a story about Jesus carving out space for a good nap. Mark, the author of the gospel, even made sure we noticed that Jesus had taken the time to grab a cushion to rest his head in the stern. Jesus had just gotten finished with a long day of preaching and miracle-working, and he did precisely what his Father did when he took time to rest from his labors. He didn’t feel bad about it. He didn’t insist he’d only be out for ten minutes. He was conked out, dead to the world asleep.
How do I know this? Because, as you no doubt noticed, what else was happening in this passage. While Jesus snoozed peacefully, letting his very human body recover from the exertions of preaching and miracle-working, all around him was chaos. One of those terrifying gales had swept down from the Galilean hills and hit the little lake, throwing wave after wave against the poor fishing boat Jesus and his disciples were taking to cross the water. And the disciples were shouting, and pulling oars, and moving sails, and grabbing rails as they rushed up and down the boat, bailing water and trying to make sure that they didn’t die there within sight of the shore. Until finally, someone has to wake up Jesus.
But Jesus is the Word of God, through whom all things were made. He was there at the beginning, when the chaos was turned into creation. And he was there on the seventh day when God ordered creation around its rest. So he reminded the storm of that rest—“Peace! Be still!” And it all stopped. Everything was calm again, and Jesus asked the disciples why they were afraid. Jesus could rest easy in the midst of such a terrifying storm because he knew the order of creation. He knew that quiet and rest are just as integral to creation as storms and activity. Jesus could rest, despite the chaos, because creation is made to rest.
And remember, you are part of creation! But do you take the time to rest?
We tend to lead very, very busy lives. And lately, they’ve only gotten busier. One of the laments I’ve heard from so many people is how there doesn’t seem to be the time, or the energy, to do more. How our youth are up to their eyeballs in homework and extracurriculars. How our working lives regularly interrupt our weekends and vacations. How the cherished traditions of slowing down don’t seem to apply anymore. We seem to be living our lives like the disciples on the boat—rushing about from one thing to the next, absorbed in the chaos of the storm. But could we take a cue from Jesus? Could we take a cue from the way God rested on the seventh day?
After all, if you just take a look outside you’ll see the ways that creation itself is taking a rest. Creation responds to the shortened days and the colder weather not by engaging in a flurry of activity, trying to keep up some unattainable level of productivity or accomplishment, but by slowing down, cozying up, and focusing on renewal. Jesus lived into the way that Sabbath orders creation by regularly finding time to slow down, be renewed, and rest. You, too, are invited to live into that rest and wholeness that God demonstrated to us by resting on the seventh day.
So listen to the shortened days that beckon you to slow down your activity. Pay attention to the soil that sleeps soundly beneath the snow, and be renewed in restfulness. Watch the squirrels and the bears and the little animals as they hibernate, and pull back from the need to be doing one more thing all the time. Echo creation’s own call to rest, be rejuvenated, and heal. God didn’t include the Sabbath rest as an afterthought to creation—God pointed all of creation toward Sabbath as its goal! So let’s allow the shorter, colder days of winter that make us want to curl up and be cozy, slow down and rest, heal and sleep, shape us to love the Sabbath that God has given us, because on this day even God rested.
Thanks be to God. Amen.