Reposted (with minor updates) from December 21, 2011.
We speak of Christmas as the most joyful time of year. We sing lyrics, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!”
And Christmas is a wonderful time of great joy and rich traditions, specifically because of the event which we are celebrating. God became man, for the purpose of redeeming us from the bondage of sin! Even the angels announced to the shepherds, “Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy!”
This is the best news mankind ever received, and celebrating that event sparks anew the joy announced by the angels and experienced by the shepherds!
And yet, the very joy being celebrated deepens the sorrow of grief.
We intentionally build rich family traditions around Christmas for the specific purpose of making the celebration both meaningful and memorable. Then, when the day comes that a child, sibling or parent is absent from the event, we feel the sorrow all the deeper, for remembering the joy we once had…and even more in longing for the joy we know we should feel at the celebration of such a joyful event.
Our brokeness (broken hearts, broken families, broken lives, broken dreams, broken circles of love and broken joy) is exposed in sharp relief, casting a long dark shadow over our lives in contrast both to the joy of those around us and to the joy we instinctively know we should feel, if all were right…but all is not right.
Our modern western society does not deal well with grief. I don’t know if other cultures do better; I just know that our’s handles grief poorly…including me. Lord knows I’ve experienced sorrow, the loss of my brother who was closest to me in age, the loss of precious nieces, the loss of a marriage, the loss of time with my children due to court ordered custody agreements. You would think that, by now, I would know how to speak comfort to someone else in their grief. I certainly am better than I once was at recognizing grief, and my heart goes out to my friends and family in their mourning as I shed tears in prayer for their comfort.
Yet, I feel more at a loss for words than ever. Because I know how ineffective words usually are. I know how trite most attempts at comfort come across. I know better than to ask, “How are you doing?” when the obvious answer is “Horrible! How can you not know that?” So I tend to stand at a distance and pray, wishing I knew what to say or do to bring just a small measure of comfort…knowing that although I share their grief, I lack the tools to adequately or meaningfully express that shared grief to the mourner.
In our society, we tend to treat sorrow as something we expect people to get over soon. We view sorrow as not a good thing, and hope they will soon “get over it” and get back to living a joyful blessed life.
But those who have experienced deep sorrow know better…we know that life will never again be the same…that it will never again be as innocently carefree as we once believed it to be. We know, to the depths of our being, that this fallen world is inherently a place of sorrow, and that so long as we remain in this life, sorrow is our natural state and any joy is both momentary and miraculous.
Yet, because of the expectations of our society, we feel compelled to try to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps, plaster a fake smile on our face, and joyfully sing Christmas carols, as though we hadn’t a care in the world!
Speaking to real people experiencing real sorrow, Jesus said, Blessed are those who mourn... (Matthew 5:4). He didn’t say, “Blessed are those who pull themselves up by their bootstraps”, nor “Blessed are those who have gotten over their grief.” He said, Blessed are those who mourn!
Right now, while you are grieving, while your heart is filled with sorrow in sharp contrast to the joy of those around you, Jesus calls you blessed!
Jesus, himself, is described as “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). Jesus, Immanuel, God-with-us, experienced deep sorrow as part of being a human, living in this world. Often, the gospels tell us of Jesus being moved by compassion, or grieving a loss. Jesus, who knew the end of the story better than anyone, deeply grieved the current state of brokeness in this life.
So, why do we, His followers, expect to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, force joy into our lives by the power of positive thinking, and work at “getting past it”?
Blessed are those who mourn!
Why? Because it is in our sorrow that we see this world as it really is. It is in our moments of deepest despair and pain that we understand how broken this fallen world really is – how totally unfit for human habitation. And it is in that moment of realization that we truly desire our Lord’s return, as our hearts cry out “Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus!”
Blessed are those who mourn…for they shall be comforted!
When all is well with our lives, enjoying loved ones, realizing the benefits of dreams and goals we have worked hard to achieve, we don’t feel the strong pull of longing for our Lord’s return. We maybe even hope He’ll wait a while longer, so we can more fully enjoy the benefits of our labors. We grow content with life in the here and now, and stop longing for the joy of life to come.
Not so, when we grieve. Our grief finds no lasting contentment in this life, as our hearts long and yearn for our Lord’s return. And so, it is only in our deepest sorrow that we can truly understand and appreciate our greatest source of joy.
A man who has never known hunger doesn’t fully appreciate the anticipation of a meal. A man who has never known bondage doesn’t fully appreciate the joy of liberty. In the same way, it is only “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” who can fully understand the joy found in the sure hope of our Lord’s coming!
There is joy in His having come to redeem us from Adam’s covenant with the kingdom of darkness! There is even more joy in the sure hope that He will come again to deliver us from the power and consequences of sin, to recreate this world into what it is supposed to be, a place of eternal joy designed to be habitated by God’s children, where there will be no more sorrow or pain!
Today, I grieve the loss of my brother, Ernie, who has been absent from our family these past 27 years…even as I rejoice in the sure hope that I will someday be reunited with him.
Today, I grieve the loss of my Aunt Ardelle, who went home with Jesus when I was eight years old…and I grieve the broken heart of an eight-year-old boy who could not comprehend why the God I trusted did not answer my earnest prayers of faith that Aunt Ardelle be restored to health…even as I rejoice in knowing that God is worthy of my trust whether or not I understand.
Today, I grieve the loss of time I was unable to spend with my children, as they were growing up…even as I thank God for His protection and care over their lives.
Today, I share the grief of family and friends whose child, or other loved one, will not be home for Christmas this year, or any year in this life…even as I rejoice in the sure hope of a future reunion.
Today, I share the grief of family and friends whose disabled child will never achieve the hopes and dreams that every parent longs to see their child enjoy…even as I rejoice in knowing that child will someday enjoy running, laughing, and playing more than any of us.
Today, I grieve a world filled with pain, suffering, poverty, illness, ignorance, bigotry, greed, selfishness, hatred, war, and brokeness…even as I rejoice in the sure hope of Christ’s return to reclaim His rightful ownership of this world, and to establish His kingdom, forevermore!
Blessed are those who mourn…for they shall be comforted!
How about you? What deep sorrow are you grieving, today?