Grief, Suffering and Christmastime

Last week a child I never knew, but have prayed for since he was a toddler, slipped away from this life into the next. In those final weeks, people covered that child and that family in prayer, pleading for miracles, for hope, for immediate and entire healing, and knowing what we knew of the family, the God would continued to be glorified through them in this.

There is thought to the idea that during the season while we think of God sending His son to us, it is difficult not to think of those we’ve sent to Him. When we try to conceptualize a God who understands our hearts and our hurts, there must be some lesson in this. God sent His son to us, knowing that He would be delivered back to Him in such a cruel manner. But not just that He gave the person, who would adore Him more than any other, the same perspective. Mary was told she’d bear a son, but she was also told she’d lose a son, and lived mothering a child who she knew that she’d outlive. It is a journey many of us know.

If you are sitting in the penetrating blackness of loss, you know this. If you are walking in the fading light of day with someone, you know this.

I can’t tell anyone what to do with this. I do not feel qualified at all to say, this will make it better or that will put you in the holiday mood. But I would feel honored to share what God’s been sharing with me in this season.

God gave us a gift at Christmas, Jesus, and let Earth receive her king, God with us.

And in turn, we see rich gifts being handed to Him. The wise men come bearing gifts for the baby. We are familiar with the song.

Born a king on Bethlehem’s plain,
Gold I bring to crown Him again,
King forever, ceasing never
Over us all to reign.

Frankincense to offer have I.
Incense owns a Deity nigh.
Prayer and praising all men raising,
Worship Him, God on high.

Myrrh is mine: Its bitter perfume
Breaths a life of gathering gloom.
Sorrow, sighing, bleeding, dying,
Sealed in a stone-cold tomb.

    The magi brings gold, to honor this baby as an earthly king, director of our daily lives, our physical bodies, our rules, to give over sovereignty from ourselves to Him.

They bring frankincense to worship this baby as High Priest, as heavenly, as director of our spiritual destiny and our immortal souls, to give over adoration from ourselves to Him.

They bring myrrh. The third offering is so beautiful to me this season. In our imaginings, in our portrayal of Christianity, sometimes we can depict faith as this happy, everything is going to be fine, and if you give over control of your earthly lives and your eternal lives to God, it will be all joy. If that is the case however, it’s more likely the wise men would have shown up with gold, frankincense and birthday cake. 

When God sent Jesus to us, from the very beginning, from the first Christmas, Man responded by handing over his ownership, his adoration, and his grief, identifying that Jesus would know all these things intimately and that Jesus longs to receive these gifts from us still.

Still, I do not want to present the idea that Jesus looked at his gifts, leaned out of the manager, patted their heads and bestowed joy immediately upon the givers. Absolutely, joy does come. Absolutely, He has the ability to give joy. But after the magi give these gifts, Matthew tells us that God warns them not to return to Herod, and so they return to their country without passing through the shadow of death. God sends Joseph and Mary to Egypt, to protect Jesus because Herod wanted to kill him, and there they stayed until Herod died.

The gifts are given and then God delivers those involved from death. God gives a gift, that is Jesus. Humanity gives back ownership, adoration and grief, and then God turns around and gives security, protection, salvation. I can only imagine that the loss of a child, the pains that feel magnified and distorted under the Christmas lights, would feel like death chasing you down. What else can that magnitude of grief be?

I think I can safely say, joy will come. Joy, that expectation we hold for Christmas will find us. But maybe for a time God just helps us narrowly escape the shadow of death and hides us far from everything we know to be home, to slip away in the night of our circumstances and hide us until we can safely walk back into our own country, our own home, our own lives, without the darkness of death hounding your steps.

I think, maybe, in the story of the magi and what followed is this. Christmas is not just about the light of the star, brilliant and bright, guiding and light, showy and impressive. It is also about admitting that grief is attached to our experience, particularly our Christmas experience, gathering up tiny God With Us, and allowing Him to hide us from the shadow of death by covering us in the shadow of His wing. I think maybe that Christmas isn’t just about the light of the world, but that Jesus dimmed his glory, glory so much brighter than that star, came to us, and traveled into darkest dark to receive the gift of ownership, adoration, and grief.

If all you can offer this Christmas is admittance, be it joyful or sorrowful, confession that He is in control, a voice that can’t sing with the carols, but a body that allows the music to pass through you, and grief, so deep that the Spirit must speak for you in groans to Him, then offer it, and find yourself next to the Christ child, tiny, fragile, God With You.

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