Monday, December 17, 2007

HOLIDAYS AND GRIEVING - December 8, 2007

In addition to the reality that all the holiday shopping, gift wrapping, baking and cleaning tend to fray the edges of my holiday cheer, I enter this month with a heavy heart. One year ago this week, on December 4, three of my relatives were in three different hospitals. My husband’s brother, Mike, was dying of cancer and went into the hospital for the last time; Mike’s daughter, Shari, in her third trimester and unduly stressed, went to the emergency room, and Rex’s other brother, Steve, went to the hospital for a diagnostic procedure and was rushed into emergency heart surgery. The very next day, December 5, my good friend, Mary Rose Knipp, lost her eight year battle with breast cancer.

I know that the holidays are shrouded with grief for many of you as well. For some, your grief is fresh and raw, from an immediate loss. For others, your grief may be a dull, throbbing ache or a painful stab of remembrance, from losses of years past. “Going through the motions” may be the very best you can do this year. “Bah! Humbug!” may find its way from your lips far more often than “Merry Christmas!” If this describes you, please know that you are not alone. If this describes someone you know, please be gentle and compassionate.

Today I share with you, “The Author of Our Salvation,” a devotional I wrote in December 1998, based on the lectionary for December 27. I must have been aching then, too, but I have no recollection of the source of my grief:

“In bringing many sons (and daughters) to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering… Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity… For this reason he had to be made like his brothers (and sisters) in every way… Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” Hebrews 2:10-18

At this time in the church year, we are accustomed to reflecting on images of our Savior as an innocent newborn “babe, wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” Yet Hebrews calls us to ponder how “the author of our salvation” was perfected through suffering. “Wait a minute! Stop the tape!” we shout. “That’s the video for Lent; for Good Friday! Pop in the video about the Christ Child surrounded by angels and shepherds and wise men!” We don’t want to contemplate suffering right now. It’s Christmas. We should be pondering happy thoughts, surrounding ourselves with good cheer. C’mon! Get with the program!”

Many of us arrive on the threshold of this Christmas season in the midst of suffering. For those of us who are experiencing family conflict or separation, coping with a lengthy, or even terminal, illness, caught in the shock and grief following the death of a loved one, or perhaps dealing with depression or job loss, the image of the suffering Christ may bring more comfort than the image of the Christ Child.

In my own times of suffering, I cling to the fact that my Savior knows first hand what it’s like to suffer. It helps to know that Jesus understands my pain. So this Christmas, as we set out the manger and hang the angels on our trees, let’s also keep this image from Hebrews 2 in our hearts. After all, the Christmas Story is only the first chapter in the memoir of “The Author of Our Salvation.”

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