Tragedy During the Holidays and the Message of the Manger
My good friend’s father died this morning. He was a senior citizen but his passing was sudden and shocking. It was in no way expected. I am devastated for my friend.
I am devastated for the families who lost someone in the deadly Amtrak derailment this week.
I am devastated for the families of the children of Sandy Hook Elementary, who are facing a horrific anniversary just as the rest of us gear up for Christmas Day.
I am devastated for all who experience unimaginable tragedy at this time of year. As I wade through all of the terrible news about terrible loss I can’t help but think of how sad and awful it must be to lose someone at Christmas time.
It’s a holiday that is so pervasive in our culture that there is no way to escape it. While you are drenched in loss, the rest of the country continues with their parties and Secret Santas and complaining about all the stress of shopping. There is no greater reminder that the world is moving on without your loved one…and for the moment without you.
Perhaps there’s just no way around that. Death has no calendar, and it is a sober reminder that we are not ultimately in control.
As I prayed for my friend and his family, I felt as helpless as ever. How do you pray for someone who is experiencing the worst pain of their life? What do you ask for? Comfort? Okay, fine. Peace? Sure, got it. Is there one prayer I can pray that will actually take away my friend’s pain and help me not to feel like a useless idiot?
As I prayed, I began to see the irony of my frustration. Here I am calling on the name of Jesus to somehow provide some comfort to my friend because of how much extra pain the Christmas season must be adding to their dilemma right now.
But the whole point of Christmas is Christ.
Maybe it’s not anything that a person suffering loss at this time can hear or understand right now, but it suddenly occurred to me that if the message of Christmas isn’t most relevant during a season of loss in our lives, then it is not relevant at all. The message of the manger isn’t that a sweet little baby came and he’d be a great leader one day. The manger’s message is that God – being incomprehensibly eternal and omnipotent and because of that, greatly removed from his human creation – came to earth as a man.
He was “born in iniquity”. The king of the universe, born in a pile of poop to a couple who had to bear great shame in order to bear him. This king came as one of us, to feel what we feel and hurt as we hurt. The story of the messiah in the manger reminds us that God’s love for us was so great, he sent his Son – this baby who would eventually grow and then die horrifically for us.
The manger is the reminder that when we are sitting in our own pile of poop, devastated and cold, lonely and ashamed, that our comfort and help has already arrived. We don’t need to beg God to heal us or help our friends in their need. He has already sent the help. That royal baby wasn’t born to erase our pain, but he was born to walk through it with us. He didn’t have to. He deserves a palace and got a barn instead. But that barn is how we know that he sees us just where we are…and how we are.
He has promised to show us heaven – not just some dimension in the sky, but right here on earth. The kingdom is here because our king has come.
What is the Kingdom? It is a place where people care for each other, where our needs our met by our Creator, our friends, our community. It is a place where you’ll find forgiveness in your sin, rest in your fatigue, sustenance in your hunger. It is the place you belong, where you can safely navigate the tragic realities of this mortal life with understanding that all that you see is not all that there is.
It is home.
I know these words won’t change the profound and unique sadness that comes with losing a loved one at Christmas, but it’s worth putting out there.
Christmas doesn’t make our holiday suffering worse…Christmas is the whole reason we can know that at some point, it will be better.
That is a gift that is unquantifiable.
My prayers continue to go up and out, my friend – in full expectation that every single one will be answered for you and your family.