Rest for the weary (Fourth Advent 2013)

Here’s my candidate for NBA quote of the week.  Gregg Popovich, coach of the San Antonio Spurs, was being asked about his controversial policy of sitting out his aging stars at the end of long and grueling road trips.  Never one to mince words, Pop fired back: “How smart do you have to be to rest guys that are older than dirt?”

If Tim Duncan, a veritable basketball geezer at 37, is older than dirt, that makes me…well, never mind.  Let’s just say that I need more rest than I used to, and pay attention to what my body tells me.

Considering the high level at which the Spurs play, Coach Popovich’s strategy works.  Some fans don’t like it; after all, they paid good money to watch their favorite gladiators bang around on the hardwood.  But Pop sees the big picture: resting his key players is what makes a deep playoff run possible (and isn’t that what the fans really want?).  If he ignores his players’ physical limits, he hurts them and he hurts the team.

So…what does any of this have to do with Advent?  Actually, it’s more about Sabbath.  It’s about paying attention to limits because we see beyond the pressing demands of the day.

May I ask if this season has been a restful one?  Or more the opposite?

Black Friday at TargetEach Advent reflection has been posted (not written) on a Sunday, the day Christians have traditionally honored both the resurrection and the Sabbath commandment (e.g., Exod 20:8-11).  Christmas is now three scant days away, and it’s the last day of the last weekend of the holiday shopping season.  What’s the state of our spirits?  Are we looking forward with joy and anticipation to celebrating anew the advent of our Savior?  Or are we fretting over last-minute gift shopping, decorating, food preparation–all the thousand and one things we’ve been taught to associate with the season?

Sometimes, it seems, Christmas is less the celebration that it should be, and more an occasion for worrying about who’s going to be disappointed that the day didn’t live up to expectations.  Our bodies are tired, our spirits frenzied.  We need Sabbath rest: not as a legalistically enforced requirement, but as a gift (Exod 16:21-30), a sign that we believe in a covenant God who gives exodus freedom from that which enslaves (Deut 5:12-15).

We rest because we see the big picture: Christmas is not made by what we do, but by what a gracious God has done and is still doing.  We rest in order to renew that vision, to contemplate and wonder and rejoice.

I know.  Maybe it feels like the last two minutes of regulation and the game’s on the line.  But if the coach calls time and takes you out, you go.  And you sit.

And you receive that rest, hopefully, as a gift from someone who cares about your future.