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True Rest

“So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his” (Hebrews 4:9-10).

     Well, I’m back from a very relaxing and restorative vacation. There is something very therapeutic about a Caribbean cruise vacation. The sun is still high in the sky, there is a warm zephyr blowing all the time, and the gentle rocking of the boat creates an easy, peaceful feeling (to quote the Eagles).

     However, notice that there is one word missing from my description of the vacation. I have been asked since I returned whether I got some R&R, so I thought I’d ruminate a bit on the purpose of vacations.

     I have heard it said countless times, “I need to take a vacation after my vacation.” Vacations are often stressful events, with time off from work affording an opportunity to do things that the normal rhythms of life just cannot. We work ourselves up prepping and packing for the time away, cram two week’s of work into one so we can go away, and after we arrive home, we either unpack immediately and spend hours doing laundry, or, if you are like me, you simply open the suitcase and leave it on the floor to mock your procrastination for a few more days. But all of this detracts from the rest and relaxation that one is pursuing in a vacation.

     But I think that the stresses that come with vacations actually point out that we are pursuing vacations for all the wrong reasons. If we really wanted to get some rest, we would do a “staycation” and just sleep in every morning, wear our pajamas until two in the afternoon while sitting on the lanai reading a good book, order take-out, then retire early to do it all again the next day.

     However, I liken a vacation to something I do with my phone, computer, and most every other electronic device that I own – I turn it off and then back on to reset everything. Vacations aren’t intended to provide the rest that we need, but are meant to be restorative in our continuing life “under the sun.” They are a pause button on our work life that allows us to refocus and come back with a renewed zeal to labor for the glory of God. To change the metaphor, it is a way of pausing on the trail to reposition our wagon that has gotten stuck in a rut.

     Now, I am being a bit fastidious about my definition of rest. There is certainly an element of rest in a vacation simply because we are not doing what we normally do day in and day out. However, our culture has created a false narrative that promotes vacations as an end in themselves, a promised oasis of rest and relaxation that is understood to be an absolute necessity in the life of every human being. And this ends up being another misplaced hope.

     This Sunday the church around the globe (save the few who follow the Eastern Orthodox calendar, which is delayed a few weeks) will begin a season of Advent. Advent, which comes from a Latin word meaning “coming,” is a season of anticipation looking forward to Christmastide and the first advent of Emmanuel, God with us. And even more importantly, it is a time of preparation in anticipating the second advent of Christ, “who will come again to judge the living and the dead,” as the Apostles’ Creed notes.

     Why did Jesus come in the flesh? Certainly it was to bring salvation to his people as they look to him in faith, receiving the grace of God manifested in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. And here is how Jesus describes that salvation in Matthew 11:28-19: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give your rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

     Jesus came in the flesh to bring us true rest. In our fallen state of sin, we are ever striving to gain what we cannot attain – salvation for our souls. We become weighed down by the overbearing nature of our pursuit, and become weary and heavy laden. The good news, the gospel of Jesus Christ, allows us to stop striving after salvation and enter that glorious Sabbath rest that Jesus freely offers to us.

     If your body needs more rest, go to bed earlier! But what we all need is rest for our souls, and this can only be found in the grace of God, through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. This is something that a vacation can never provide, but something that Jesus can and does give us out of his abundant grace.

     So this Advent and Christmas season, look to Jesus to find that perfect peace and rest.