A good friend of mine attended a funeral today. The woman who passed away was a member of her church, a member of the group of ladies who go to Sunday lunch together after the service. And as it happens, this was the sixth member of that small congregation to die this year. My friend is not alone. Others have lost loved ones this year, too.
On a national scale, we have protests in Chicago and a(nother) shooting in Colorado. We have Presidential candidates saying divisive things (not just Donald Trump; Hilliary Clinton merrily declared Republicans to be her enemies in the first Democratic Presidential debate.) Then there is the tightened security around . . . well, wherever people gather together. Here in SoCal there was a Festival of Lights in Riverside that had beefed up security because of the crowd the event would draw. I mean, Riverside? Do most people even know there is a Riverside, let alone where it is? Apparently, no matter where we live, we’re facing this terrorist threat in one way or another.
Internationally there’s the scramble to contain/destabilize/degrade/destroy (pick your verb) ISIS, aka ISIL, aka Daesh. (Am I the only one concerned that our government continues to call the terrorist organization one thing when the rest of us call it something else and the people fighting them use a third name? I mean, we can’t even agree on their name?)
But this is the beginning of Advent. Christians are turning our focus on hope.
Despite personal, national, or international concerns, it’s right that we cling to hope first and foremost during the Christmas season, and beyond. But how do we get there?
I remember facing Christmas for the first time after my dad died. The holiday just didn’t seem right without him. Would Christmas ever be merry again, I wondered.
The thing is, too often the merry-making associated with Christmas is of a superficial nature. We’re merry because we have a party to look forward to or presents to buy and wrap and another whole set to get. We have once-a-year music that brings back fond memories. We have food to prepare and stockings to stuff, trees to decorate, lights to string.
There’s lots to do, places to go, people to see. It’s a bit of a whirlwind, but a merry whirlwind that comes only once a year, so we love it and embrace it and enjoy Christmas because it’s so special.
And it is.
But if that’s all it is, then it’s easy for the loss of a loved one, or fear, or worry to shatter the fictive Christmas dream. This special holiday will never again be perfect because this dear person or that, is no longer here, or because this event happened or could happen again.
Of course, the reality is that the “perfect Christmas” is an ideal few of us ever live. But a greater reality is, there’s a more perfect Christmas waiting for us.
The reality is that Christmas is abundantly more than presents and decorations and food and family. Yes, it’s about Jesus coming in the flesh, stooping to take the form of Man, but it’s even more than that.
If Jesus only came and then went away, what would we have? An example to follow, perhaps, though who can live a sinless life the way God in the flesh did? In truth, Jesus came to earth as a baby in order that He might come to each one of us as Savior.
The whole Christmas story includes God descending in order that He might ascend again and take us with Him.
The loss of a loved one runs deep, there’s no doubt. And it’s right and appropriate to mourn. Christmas trappings may lose their glitter in the process, but the significance of Christmas can actually grow. What other holiday is more hopeful than Christmas? Only Easter, and the two really are different sides of the same celebration.
Christmas celebrates God sending His Son. Easter celebrates God receiving His Son. What Jesus accomplished in the between space makes all the difference.
Now we have the hope of heaven to go along with the hope for a Merry Christmas. We can hope to get along with our family on December 25, but we can also hope to spend eternity with them. We can enjoy the Christmas parties and feasts, but we can look forward to the banquet supper of the Lamb. We can bask in the music of the season, but we can anticipate the forever praises of God’s people as they worship at His throne.
In other words, what we have at Christmas is a foretaste of what we will enjoy in Heaven, without limit. The beauty, the love, the laughter, the peace, the safety, the generosity, the creativity, the activity—none of the elements of Christmas we love so much can hold a candle to what awaits us when we join Christ.
Paul himself said it in Philippians: to be with Christ is gain. It’s not an abandonment of what we love here; it’s what we love and more.
One piece of that “more” is an end to the losses, to the goodbyes. And an end to the worries and fears. That is great good news in its own right and definitely a cause for hope. Yes, some may mourn at Christmastime and some may worry or fear, but for those who embrace Christ as more than a baby born in a manger, for those who cling to Him as Savior and Lord, our mourning is turned to gladness at the promise of Christmas, our worry and fear to joy and peace.
We of all people have hope beyond the temporary merryness of the season because we look to an eternity of God’s peace and good will.