A friend of mine received some pretty bad news this week. Three days before Christmas, this friend heard the word all of us hate: cancer. Stage 4. It has spread.
Another friend of mine is celebrating Christmas without his father for the first time this year. While still opening presents and doing all of the fun things, he is preparing for the funeral that is coming up in a few days.
My family is getting together for Christmas tomorrow. Grandparents, kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids will be present. Gifts, food, and joyful noise will ensue. My brother, a funeral director, will be arriving late tonight; he is serving a family by being with them today at the funeral for their loved one.
There is this story in the birth narrative of Matthew that does not often get read at Christmas pageants.
After a few months had passed, Herod realized he’d been tricked. The wise men were not coming back. Herod, of course, was furious. He simply ordered that all boys who lived in or near Bethlehem and were two years of age and younger be killed. He knew the baby King was this age because of what the wise men told him.
This sad event had long been foretold by the prophet Jeremiah:
A voice will be heard in Ramah,
weeping and wailing and mourning out loud all day and night.
The voice is Rachel’s, weeping for her children,
her children who have been killed;
she weeps, and she will not be comforted. (Matthew 2:16-18, The Voice)
We know it happened. It’s part of the story. We even acknowledge the fact that Jesus and his family were refugees to Egypt, but we do so without talking about the loss of children’s lives.
Because Christmas is supposed to be about life and joy and peace and triumph and hope and love.
But death is just as much a part of the story as life.
Life means death.
Strength is made perfect in weakness.
Hope arises out of suffering.
We often miss the point of the Christmas story because we focus only on the happy parts. We often fail to fully appreciate the Advent season of waiting because we know how the story ends.
But we must remember the pain and agony that comes with the joy and triumph. And by remembering it, I don’t mean we tell people who are hurting, “Oh, it will be okay. Look! Baby Jesus!”
No. We remember what the prophet Jeremiah said: she weeps and will not be comforted.
The scars don’t go away. But they will be redeemed.
Our challenges don’t get resolved like we live in a 30 minute sitcom. Bur they will be overcome.
Our grief and sorrow do not vanish. Bu they will be replaced.
The death we experience daily does not stop happening. But the life that is to come will bring renewal.
I think those who are hurting right now understand Advent and Christmas in a special, profound, and painful way.
Let us mourn with them.
Let us weep with those who will not be comforted.
Let us remember the pain of death, even as we celebrate the joy of life.