Christmas is a season of celebration, when we remember joy and hope and sing heartily of good cheer. However, as we draw near to the end of 2018, Jared and I are tempted to say, “Good riddance!” This has been a year we will always recall for its sheer quantity of trials. In years to come, we will probably say to each other, “Remember the year that started out with your mysterious virus that we thought was a stomach ulcer? And then remember how I had a cough that lasted for months and dislocated my ribs? And then Titus broke his arm and needed surgery? And then I slipped on my motorbike and Titus’ foot got lacerated and he broke his leg? And then Ivan pinched off his fingertip? And then Gabriel fell and knocked out his front tooth and we momentarily thought he would have to have oral surgery?” (Seeing the list in black and white like this, it almost seems laughable!)
But there are other trials that will never be laughable, no matter how much time passes. Early this month, our littlest nephew was born and lived only a few brief hours before passing into eternity. Just yesterday, my snappy, spunky grandma of 96 years of age also joined her Savior, husband, and all the rest who have gone before.
The pain of these latter two events is very different, of course. The one was sudden and shocking, and the sorrow of loss was debilitating for Jared’s brother and sister-in-law, who for months had anticipated the joy of another child to hold and love and raise and experience. They were fully invested in this baby—physically, emotionally, practically—their loss is all the greater for what they will miss out on in the coming years that should have been full of firsts: first foods, first tooth, first word, first step, first birthday, first day of school, first home-run. Instead, their first day with little Jedidiah also became their last, and now they bear the burden of heartache that inevitably comes from love and loss.
On the other hand, Grandma’s death was a long, slow process, in which time we were able to prepare our hearts and joyfully release her to the full presence of the Lord. The pain of loss remains, but we can now rejoice in the many years of memories we hold in our hearts—years in which we were able to know and be known, love and be loved by Grandma. Our heartache is great because of the years we have already been given to fully experience this person; we grieve because of relationships fully-formed and deep-rooted, which have now been torn up by the separation of death.
While death at a ripe old age seems so much more natural (and is indeed much easier to bear for those left behind), we fool ourselves to think that it really is natural. Death and separation and pain and loss were never part of God’s original design. Whether it comes after a single hour of life or after almost a century of ripe years, death is not what we were created for. That’s why it hurts.
And that’s why, this Christmas season, we are stopping to remember the joy and hope that Jesus brings to us. He came to redeem all the sorrow and toil of our lives and make it worthwhile. We are already anticipating the gladness of being reunited with our extended families next year after a 3-year absence. But imagine the joy of the great reunion that awaits all believers at the end of this life. This is the reunion that Grandma, Baby Jedidiah, and countless others are already tasting.
In all the flurry and blur of a normal Christmas in the northwest, we pray that each of you takes time to consider those who are hurting. Take time to pray for them and encourage them. Share a little of their sorrows and lighten their burdens. At Christmas, we remember that Jesus became like us. As Emmanuel, He dwelt with us and shared in our trials and suffering before taking the ultimate burden of sin on Himself. May we all do likewise as we seek to be transformed into the image of Christ. And when we’re tempted to wish away our trials and say “good riddance” to a tough year, let’s rejoice instead that we have a Savior and Redeemer who has gone before us and has already won the victory!