And suddenly, or not, it’s the month of December. In a year unlike any other, the final of the twelve has arrived on our doorsteps. Will we invite December, blue and shivering, into our homes?
We're weary of the pandemic, politics, and polemic of its predecessors. How do we regain our footing when the rest of the year has been a walk on thin ice, hope slipping out from under us again and again?
Our oldest son, Adam, is a pastor in the Boston area. He wrote the following words for a “Blue Christmas” devotional intended especially for those who have lost their appetite for normal holiday celebrations in a year that’s been anything but. Those who have lost loved ones.
Families like yours and mine.
Let Adam explain:
“The holidays were difficult for my family last year. The week before Thanksgiving we lost a teenage cousin suddenly. The greater Rowe family was shocked as we scrambled to figure out how to care for our grieving members. My dad, a lifelong pastor who often acts as the family pastor, scrapped our Thanksgiving plans and instead headed south to be with my cousin’s family.
The situation was made harder by the fact that my immediate family, all living out of state, were gathering in Massachusetts for Thanksgiving in order to spend one last holiday together with my maternal grandmother who had been given a terminal cancer diagnosis a few weeks prior.
Even as our our time together was filled with laughter, stories, and the energy of young children, we also experienced grief on multiple levels as we shared pain-filled phone updates from my dad. At the end of the weekend I dropped my mom and grandmother off at Logan Airport, hugged Grandma tight, and said, “I love you, I love you, l love you.”
And those turned out to be the very last words I would ever share with her in person. God took Grandma home only three weeks later, five days before Christmas.
Nearly a year later, I find myself crying as I write that last sentence. That moment is a beautiful one that I’m so grateful to have had, but it is tinged with grief and loss. As my family gathered for Christmas at my sister’s house we entered into that same curious mix of laughter, stories, children, and tears that we experienced at Thanksgiving. This particular year the gifts included family heirlooms and artifacts passed down by my grandmother, each of which came with remembrances of past times and our love for my grandparents now both gone.
This year as Christmas approaches once again, I find myself viewing it through the lens of those experiences. My vision is once again tinged with a sense of loss and grief. I am strongly aware of the first anniversaries of the loss of our family members, and in thinking about my young cousin and Grandma I am reliving each moment of last year. It is a strange thing to both look forward to and also feel apprehensive about a coming holiday and family gathering, but that is where I find myself in 2020.
Last January my family gathered in the Midwest to celebrate my grandmother’s life. We drove by the old family farm, toured my grandparents’ former home that holds many memories for my siblings and me, and spent time at her home church sharing stories of grandma’s life with her friends. We were once again experiencing that strange mixture of grief and love, of loss and laughter.
And in doing so I was reminded of the words of the Apostle Paul to the church in Thessalonica:
And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14
As a family we grieved in those days and we still grieve today, but we do not grieve as those who have no hope. The laughter was not out of place with the loss. We did not shush the children or hide our tears from them.
Instead we grieved, we cried, we mourned, but we also look forward to a future reunion. For if Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him believers who have died. It does not take away the pain or the loss, but it does offer us hope.
And this Christmas that is what I need more than anything: hope. This past Sunday, churches around the world lit the first candle of Advent against the darkness. The candle of hope.
Praise God that He has offered me hope in the life and resurrection of Jesus, and the hope of a future reunion with those we have lost.” - Adam Wallem Rowe