Advent Lament: Grieving at Christmas
Although I have been thinking about writing this post for some time, it has been hard to form the words that would adequately express my thoughts and feelings.
My mom passed away on November 8th.
It is difficult to describe what the journey of the last two and half years has been since she began her journey with cancer.
Here are a few words that come to mind:
Full of life. Heart-wrenching. Memory making. Sad. Laughter. Family trips. Lunches. Shopping sprees. Loss. Bittersweet.
Of course my list could go on for quite some time, but that is a small window into a season of life that was filled with a richness joy and a depth of beauty intermingled with sorrow and grief.
All along this journey, I have known my mom would likely die at some point and yet while reality loomed in front of us, it seemed unfathomable that we could actually ever lose her and impossible to imagine what life without her would look like. In many ways this is why I struggle to properly articulate my thoughts. I am facing a reality that still doesn’t seem possible and yet the days continue to pass and life goes on.
I lack understanding concerning the depth of loss and sorrow in this world. And yet from birth to death, in many ways life is loss. But losses cannot be viewed in isolation… they represent the countless gifts that have been given. They represent life and transition. And, even though my mind cannot always grasp it, hope and life prevail through it all.
As Christmas approaches, countless people keep telling me how hard Christmas is for me this year. Sometimes it’s hard for me to be told how I feel or should feel rather than being asked. Christmas has been hard for many years. Christmas following the deaths of my brother and dad were excruciating. Every Christmas following it has felt like part of our family has been missing. This year, with over half of my immediate family in heaven, I feel a depth of sadness at what my family has lost and the absence of each one is strongly felt.
When I think about this, it is easy to become overwhelmed with my feelings of grief and my lack of understanding concerning how all of this fits into a bigger picture. And yet I grieve with hope. I grieve with gratitude. And I grieve with the abiding presence of God.
A week and a half ago, I had the opportunity to preach my first sermon. I spoke on Matthew 2:1-12, the story of the magi who come to worship Jesus. This advent I have been reflecting a lot on the magi and why their visit was significant enough to be recorded.
The magi had been waiting and searching for a star. When it appeared, they followed it and it led them to Jerusalem. From there they were led to Bethlehem where Jesus was. Their response was to rejoice exceedingly with great joy and to worship Christ. Their journey was long and costly and they didn’t know where it would lead them. They weren’t guaranteed that they would find anything. And yet, with the knowledge and understanding they had, they responded to God’s leading and as a result encountered Christ.
I have no idea where God is leading me right now. I have no idea why the circumstances of my life are such that they are. I don’t see how my life fits into the greater picture of God’s plan. However, despite all of this, with the knowledge and understanding I have, I can respond to God’s invitations in my life and so can you. We can turn to God in complete trust and worship. We can trust that despite not knowing how life will continue to unfold, God will be faithful, God will provide, God will direct our paths and God will be with us.
So I approach this Christmas with a mixture of sadness and joy. I am holding them together. My mom loved Christmas and although the memories of past years remind me of the loss we are now facing, they also bring me to a place of gratitude and recognition that I am living in the legacy and memory of my mom and this is something beautiful to celebrate, acknowledging the incredible gift she has been to me. In the moments that lack clarity, I can trust and rest in God and his promises.
In the whirlwind of emotions, in the moments of exhaustion, in the laughter and the tears, I am celebrating and abiding in the truth of Emmanuel this Christmas: God with us.
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