Christmas is sitting up through the night with a grieving family and being able to tell them they can make it because God is with us.
We want the magical, the festive, or perhaps the contemplative Christmas. We want the hot chocolate and fireplaces. We want children’s eyes sparkling with wonder. We want hearts exploding with jubilant carols. We want the idyllic Christmas nativity program with almost perfect cherubs and slightly mischievous shepherds, a sweet Mary and kind Joseph, and a cute little baby doll wrapped up tight. We want Christmas to be perfect.
We light a few candles. We put fresh hay down and make sure there’s no manure in this rustic stable. It’s got to be perfect. It’s got to feel like Christmas.
But can there even be Christmas for the young lady who has just lost her mom? Can there be Christmas when emotions are raw and pain is deep? Can there be Christmas when it all feels hopeless?
Just maybe the grieving and hurting will not be so distracted by the glitz and glimmer of Christmas. Maybe now their eyes can focus on the God of Christmas.
Perhaps the best Christmas is when we see Bethlehem’s Baby for who He is–Jesus, the One who would take away the sins of the world. Perhaps the best Christmas is when we see the Christ-Child as He is–Emmanuel, God with us, walking with us in human experience. Surely the perfect Christmas is more than a sanitized storybook Christmas with colorful scenes recapturing childish imagination. It’s more than words and images, fancy or even history. Christmas is God stepping into the story of our lives… as Savior, to forgive our sins… as Emmanuel, to walk along the pathway of human experience with us.
So perhaps if you want to feel the spirit of Christmas, instead of scheduling another party, go visit a grieving friend. I believe you will sense the presence of the Christ-child because “the Lord is near to the brokenhearted.”
I lost another friend to alcohol last night. Cirrhosis. Only 46 years old. My mind is still groggy from sitting up through the night with the family after they received word of her passing. Her name is added to a long list of tragedies that have deeply affected people I love. She was a dear friend to our family and I enjoyed many long visits with her.
> My wife’s uncle spent something like 10 years in jail. A DUI that left another driver dead.
> A local friend lost her dad in a drunken crash.
> A parishioner lost 3 sons in their DUI accident. You can see their markers down by the river. In a separate accident several years later, another son was critically injured, nearly died and is incapable for independent living.
> A neighbor’s son hanged himself while intoxicated.
> One elderly grandma who attends our church struggles daily with alcoholism and it has affected all of her family with most of them taking the same path. The last time she came to church, she gave me a list of 8-10 children or grandchildren in jail currently for incidents where alcohol was a primary factor.
I have to go now, but my list could go on and on.
Let me just say, I hate alcohol and I hate what it has done to the people I love.
I picked up one of Dad’s sermon notebooks today and my eyes fell on some of the words he shared at the funeral of a parishioner. My mind, of course, retraced the steps back that time and place over two decades ago – a journey now marked by the loss of Dad’s passing. The sermons in this notebook include a full outline exposition of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. Almost all of the sermons in this particular notebook are handwritten – often with bold blue ink and red underlining, stunningly neat (not his usual scrawl) and thoughtfully presented in outline form. For this occasion, he deviated from his typical pattern to write manuscript some of what he wanted to share that day. I read these words today and thanked God that they are true when they were first shared and they are true today. I’ve found God’s grace sufficient for me on my own journey and I share these words hoping they might again console another soul. He begins with a poem by H. S. Rice, The Bend in the Road. Continue reading