Christmas in Joy and Sorrow
Dec 24, 2010 by Don Payne | 0 Comments
It's Christmas Eve. My family and I have enjoyed a day of reconnecting, teasing, laughterg, and general holiday revelry. We just finished our annual Christmas Eve tradition of finger food and fondue. Once again, I'm moved with profound gratitude for the goodness of God.
Yesterday morning we were informed that the son of our former seminary president Craig Williford died suddenly and unexpectedly, due to complications from influenza. He, his wife Tricia and two young sons, his parents, Craig and Carolyn, and in-laws Polly and Doyle Lott were all together for Christmas. Though I don't know what Christmas will be for them in the future, I know it will never be the same.
Throughout today my prayers and grief for them glide along on parallel tracks with my own joy and gratitude. The Lord who is present with me in the goodness of my own moments is the same Lord who is simultaneously present with them in their crushing, stunning, incalculable loss. How strange. The Incarnation of the Son of God, this "God with us," is celebrated with carols and candles, cider and color, presents and food. Yet, a loss like these families have sustained drives us back to the same place - the same Lord - even with different accoutrements and the most polar opposite of sentiments. Perhaps this tragedy should remind us that the goodness and faithfulness of God through Jesus Christ is known most poignantly when He must sustain us without the comforts and pleasures that many in the world associate with the holidays.
While this may sober our celebrations in some fashion, it does not dilute them. The God who is with us in our sorrows also provides lightness of heart to receive life when things are going well. So, it does not spoil happiness but thickens it. All the joys and losses, happiness and heartache we can ever experience are reconciled through the same Incarnate Lord who has entered the full extent of our humanness: all the hurt and all the joy, and taken that up to the Father. In a sense that relieves us of the burden of having to "make sense" of it all or discern "what God is doing". The really important issue is what God has already done - through Jesus. It liberates us to celebrate without feeling guilty, to be crushed without being destroyed, to receive what life brings our way without preoccupation over whether we deserve it, to bear one another's burdens and still experience joy.
Christmas will never again be the same for these dear families (please pray for them if you read this), but it will never be quite the same for me either.
P.S. If you want to go deeper in what it means to live freely in the tension of joy and sorrow, I commend my friend Chris Kettler's book The God Who Rejoices: Joy, Despair, and the Vicarious Humanity of Christ (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2010).