Christmas for the Grieving
The Christmases of 2008 and 2009 were tearful ones for my wife and myself. The tears of joy in 2008 which accompanied our first Christmas with our firstborn son (I challenge anybody to tell me that their first Christmas with their first child wasn’t similar) were replaced with tears of grief the next year as his younger brother was stillborn just three months before December 2009. In the midst of the celebrations around us we struggled on trying to make it a meaningful moment for our oldest boy and our church family (I was helping to pastor a church at the time) all the while just wanting to hide ourselves away and move into the new year leaving the past one behind.
The 6th of December is the feast day of St Nicholas who is famed for giving gifts to young children and is the character upon whom the modern concept of Father Christmas is founded. What many people don’t know is that amongst church historians he is also famed (lauded even) for having a full blown punch up at the Council of Nicaea with Arius who had the temerity to suggest that Jesus was not fully divine as well as being fully human. It’s funny how often in the Church and our Christian life the good bits are mixed up with the bad stuff.
The Bible is full of dichotomies like this. Look at the presents that the Magi bring to Mary at Epiphany; the Gold and Frankincense are wonderful signs of Jesus’ kingship and priesthood, but a little box of myrrh? That’s embalming fluid for dead people, the equivalent of bringing a tiny coffin as a present to a baby shower. Of course the truth is that Jesus is King, Priest and Sacrifice all in one glorious hypostatic union. He cannot achieve what he is come to do, win the victory he is destined for unless he first experiences pain and death.
In the midst of our grief something wonderful is happening on a cross and in a tomb. Jesus didn’t just come to die for our sins, he came to die for our wounds and pain and grief[i]. Christ on the cross unites himself with all in Him who die and all in Him who grieve the dying. He lies in stillness with them both in a tomb whose silence speaks powerfully of the victory won the previous day over sin and death. He bursts forth at dawn for both at them and resurrects in his wake corpses and dreams that have died. In all this he doesn’t remove grief and pain but rather he transforms it and makes it into something that could never have been without the death in the first place.
But oh, the waiting for that Resurrection Day...
My wife and I have discovered in handing over our grief to him that Jesus’ love bores deeper into our very being than we ever thought possible[ii]. Our pain is his pain, our grief is his grief. The baby in the manger is the saviour on the cross who unites himself to every part of our life and seeks to bring his resurrection to it. My prayer for you this Advent is that as you allow Jesus into whatever grief you are currently experiencing, that you will experience his resurrection power transforming your pain into something that was never possible before. Celebrate all the gifts he gives you, the gold and the myrrh, the fight and the peace. He will make them all new.
[i] Isaiah 53:4
[ii] See http://www.peter-ould.net/2009/12/23/myrrh/, http://www.peter-ould.net/2010/12/25/frankincense/, http://www.peter-ould.net/2011/12/25/gold/