The holidays are notoriously hard for the bereaved; Christmas in particular. It’s the quintessential family day. It’s looked forward to with joy by kids filled with anticipation and hope and parents and grandparents excited to see that hope realized and the resulting celebration . . .
Not only that, the entire month of December is filled with triggers for memorable moments that will be no more . . .
Shopping, decorating, making candy and cookies, late night cocoa by the light of the Christmas tree, piles of presents gradually growing higher and spreading out before the tree. “White Christmas” and “Charlie Brown’s Christmas” on the TV and trips to visit Santa Clause. It’s a recipe for family magic . . .
And then the circle is broken.
There’s one less person to buy gifts for, one less stocking to fill, one less excited squeal as brightly colored paper and bows fly through the air.
The day has become less.
But Christmas isn’t really about family. It wasn’t about Mary and Joseph. It wasn’t about angels proclaiming good will to men, frightened then excited shepherds and wise men traveling from afar to worship either. Everyone from the awe inspiring angels to the wise men and Mary and Joseph were all just supporting cast members. They all played an important role but there is no doubt that the focus was squarely on the new born babe—the Christ child in a dirty sheep fold—the hope of redemption for all the world. That’s the good news—that’s the gospel.
But we, in modern days, have relegated the Christ child to the background. Can you find signs of the nativity in the picture on the left? We’ve overshadowed His glory, God’s miraculous appearing in human form—Emmanuel—with sights and smells and greedy hearts.
And when your loved one dies, the props of the season are but painful reminders of what’s been lost. What was once shared. What was anticipated.
Melancholy blankets the joy of the season because we’ve made Christmas about Santa and gifts and family. The time between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day has been consumed by the pursuit of happiness. The real gifts of the season, life and liberty, barely receive a cursory nod if they are acknowledged at all. How very American of us!
In Luke chapter 4 the beginning of Christ’s ministry is recorded following His temptation in the wilderness by Satan. He began His ministry in Galilee and people began to talk and word of this new prophet spread throughout the area. Eventually, Jesus returned home to Nazareth, the place where He grew from a child to a man, where he went to church. Can you imagine how curious the people from His home town must have been?
“And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee: and there went out a fame of him through all the region round about.
And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified of all.” ~ Luke 4:14-15 KJV
One thing I didn’t know that’s of cultural significance, is that the scrolls were read in a certain order. On the day Jesus returned to His home church He was handed the preordained scroll from Isaiah. The text was Isaiah’s prophecy regarding the long anticipated Messiah. Jesus read that prophecy and basically told all those in attendance that He was the Messiah they had been looking for.
“He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.”
“He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” ~ Luke 4:16-21 NIV
And the fact that Jesus read that specific scripture is important because Jesus didn’t select the scripture to be read in the synagogue on His own—but it was no coincidence that He read that specific passage. Now, it’s important to understand that a prophet in that day was held to a very high standard—a 100% accuracy rate. The first time a prophecy failed to be fulfilled the prophet’s career was over. The Jewish people knew with absolute certainty that an unfulfilled prophecy meant God did not send that man.
The scripture Jesus read was inspired by God and then prophesied by Isaiah in order to enable the Jews to recognize the Messiah when He appeared. They should have been able to identify Jesus as the Christ because He fulfilled the prophecy of what the Messiah’s earthly ministry would look like. They heard the rumors: the evidence was before them if they’d just observed His ministry.
He healed the brokenhearted by curing their sick and dying loved ones—by actually raising the dead on a few noted occasions.
He delivered the demon possessed from Satanic captivity.
He gave sight to the blind.
He set free those bruised by life’s harsh realities—by the sin that stains the soul all mankind.
He is—and was—and will always be Messiah.
Christmas and Easter should be the holidays the bereaved most enjoy. They should give those who grieve hope. Yet the birth of Christ and the full scope of it’s meaning is lost among decorations, flying wrapping paper and ribbons.
That long ago day, Christ was the only one to receive gifts; gold, frankincense and Myrrh. We don’t actually know how the gold was used. It’s been speculated that it paid for Christ’s escape from a fearful earthy king [Herod] desperate to hold onto his kingdom. But the frankincense and myrrh were commonly used to anoint a body at burial. The gifts Christ received prepared Him for life and death. Just as the gifts we receive from the Lord do for us.
Since Bethany and Katie’s deaths we have not done much decorating for Christmas. We haven’t put up a tree or hung stockings or made Christmas cookies. Last year I bought a small (1 1/2 foot) pre-lit tree and set up my usual manger scene. My heart has not been in what is commonly referred to as the Christmas spirit. And as the anniversary of the girls’ deaths is the day after Christmas; I have had no desire to return home from the holiday with family to a “festive” house. It’s just painful. My heart is not festive this time of year. Well, actually, my heart has not really been festive since that tragic day.
But . . .
Christ was still born . . .
He is still my hope . . .
His birth, death and resurrection are the rock solid foundation of the one hope I still nurse.
It’s the only hope that really matters.
Everything else is cake – a temporary sweet to savor for a short time.
But Christmas is about permanent things. It’s about the permanence of my life’s highest priority. It’s about peace, hope and joy and my heart longs for those things in pure unblemished permanence.
As translated by the Amplified Bible, Jesus said,
” I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have [perfect] peace and confidence. In the world you have tribulation and trials and distress and frustration; but be of good cheer [take courage; be confident, certain, undaunted]! For I have overcome the world. [I have deprived it of power to harm you and have conquered it for you.]’ John 16:33
This month will still be hard for me. It’s filled with the sorrow of what was and what will never be again.
I’m still not sure if a full-sized Christmas tree will grace our home.
But this year I did purchase a larger manger scene.
The nativity will take center stage in our home.
Christmas Day I will still struggle to focus on what is and what will be and not on what was. I’ll still be distracted from the true purpose of the holiday by the commercialism that has become Christmas.
I’ll still miss the children in my heart but not in my presence.
It will be a bittersweet day.
You may not find me is a state of good cheer, but you will find me confident and certain that for all that sin and Satan have snatched from my hands, Jesus has deprived them of the ability to harm my eternal soul. He has conquered sin and death.
So I will celebrate—not with happiness but instead with joy—the birth of the Christ child.
The Savior of the world.