For the Christian, gathering together for prayer is fitting. On the one hand, we are bringing our sickness and our depression and our pain altogether to one place, to groan with the rest the world trapped in its disease and death, waiting and hoping, in the spirit of Advent, that one day, surely, one day these conditions will finally change for good.
And yet on the other hand, with all due respect to Advent, we can’t be content only to wait and to hope for God to act in that day far off in the future. Yes, it’s Advent, but we must remember, that as a Christian, every day is Easter, which means that the power that raised Jesus from the dead has been unleashed upon this world of pain. It’s the life of new creation; it’s the power of the Holy Spirit. And it’s the life and power that has been given to those who gather in the name of Christ, the church.
And as we bring our sickness and our depression to one place, but we must do so to do more than groan; we are to pray for these conditions to not only change one day, but also to change today. We are called not only to hope in the future, but expect something right now. We are called to raise our expectations. Two passages of Scripture give us reason to do so.
The first is Mark 1:32–34: "When it was evening, after sunset, they brought to Jesus all who were sick and oppressed... The whole town gathered in one place... And Jesus healed many who were sick with various diseases." This is not unusual for Jesus. In fact, it’s a nice snapshot of the very heart of Jesus’ earthly ministry. He had compassion for the hurting, which is wonderful to think about, but then he also had the power to do something about it right then and there.
Second, there’s an amazing statement Jesus makes in John’s Gospel. As he and his disciples are talking about these compassionate and powerful acts of healing, Jesus tells them that through the Holy Spirit they will perform greater miraculous deeds than he did—greater miraculous deeds (14:12). Jesus seems to think that his ministry of compassion and power would only be a foretaste of the kind of ministry the church itself would have.
It’s a strange tension, isn’t it, that we’re supposed to live in? Identifying with the world in its pain, waiting for the return of our Lord, and yet all the while entreating God over and over again to perform deeds of wonder in our lives. It’s difficult to know what that’s always supposed to look like, but I do know, in the least, it looks like gathering hurting people together to pray, to lay hands on one another, to anoint with oil, to share our troubles, and to expect God not only to be near, not only to be compassionate, but to break through here and there in surprising and wonderful, indeed, miraculous ways.
Let us continue to bring our greatest sorrows, our greatest hurts, and our greatest concerns, even our greatest sicknesses, and gather together with an even greater expectation of what God our Father might do for us in the name of Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.