Exhaustion: An Advent Reflection

Photo by michael schaffler on Unsplash

This Advent I’m delighted to bring you a variety of voices – authors, pastors, theologians, and philosophers – each of whom has a unique and beautiful take on a particular passage of Scripture related to the Advent season.

My prayer is that these reflections would help guide your devotional life as you participate in this season of holy waiting.

Without further ado, let’s continue, with a reflection taken from author Paul J. Pastor. 

Exhaustion: An Advent Reflection by Paul J. Pastor

Christ Awakens in a Sinking Ship

A great wind-storm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was beginning to fill with water. And he was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion.

And they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re about to die?”

And he roused himself and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Silence! Shut up!”

       –Mark 4:37-39, The Anchor Bible (Joel Marcus, trans.)

He is a man in his prime, yet so spent from the walking, the preaching, the healing (each act of which is felt as an ache of power) that he is sleeping through a gale.

Sleeping through the shouting, the pitch and yaw of the deck. Sleeping, though his robes stick plastered to his legs, heavy with shipped water. Sleeping through the noise of Matthew’s nausea, as he spews it off the side, through Peter’s panicked expletives in three languages (the ropes are carrying the skin from his palms now), through the oblique prayers of John, gradually growing in their desperation.

Sleeping. Does he dream? Does his brain (so spent) pull images from supreme depths?

Does the spray call to the sleeping mind the tears of Mary? How often as a boy he saw that familiar cloud pass across her face. A sword shall pass through your heart also, he remembers, and pulls his hood lower on his eyes. In the halfway place of dreams he sees the sword, of thorny wood (how strange!) and with a heavy crossbar.

That aching in his knees, how like what Joseph must have felt in reaching Bethlehem, desperate for sleep and a basin of water. (Just then, his little wife began to groan differently than he had ever heard. The hair rose on his rough arms.)

And that desperation for sleep, that hunger deeper than for food. The Teacher rolls to his other side and moans. There is a rising knowledge now that he will be interrupted, and perhaps a mutter: please, let me have a quarter hour more, Mother. I am so tired, and is it not the Sabbath?

The shouts, the clamor, the wind off the water is thick with the smell of stale fish—and oh he must keep sleeping, it is like water, like bread—God, how much work it is for one man to light a fire on this whole wet world. How hard to be struck like flint, to spend yourself, to feed your own flesh slowly to eternal ages when you are, in the end, a man. One minute more Mother. Let a working man sleep!

No, the ship tilts toward heaven. Peter kicks him like a brother. The Teacher opens his eyes.

The great world is still there. The great work lies all about, in coils like the rope, in folds like canvas.

Jesus catches a cold memory of angel song, of the scent of myrrh on his toddler fingers, of a watchful, unspeakable hope. Images come he cannot have remembered, can he? The manger, the star, the cries of the virgin bride bowed over the straw. It was all for this, was it not? This and every other moment of his life. All is as it must be. But why must he be so tired for it?

He gets to his feet. Surely there was born that day in the city of David a Savior.

Surely he comes now, lowly and riding on a sinking boat.

Surely this is he, trying to find footing on the deck, eyes rimmed red, wiping holy drool from his beard.

Surely this is he, who yawns, who shakes dreams from his lank hair and feels his chest begin to open.

Surely this is he! Up his throat comes the familiar rush, the whirl of timeless flame!

Surely this is he! Who speaks the word of power, who casts his soul upward like a worn net!

Surely this is he, reeling in the madcap wind!

Surely this too is the passion of the Christ and the agony of incarnation.

Surely he has borne our weaknesses.

Surely he gives us his strength.

Surely—all glory and honor be unto him, forever and ever, world without end, amen, for the government is upon those slouching shoulders.

Surely he wants to go back to sleep, and dream of a perfect night in Bethlehem.


Paul J. Pastor is an award-winning writer and editor, whose genre-bending books of poetic Christian theology include The Face of the Deep and The Listening Day, Volumes One & Two. He’s also written Palau: A Life on Fire (with Luis Palau), and other works both long and short. He lives in Oregon.

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