A Baby, A Tree, the Holiday To Be: Rethinking Death During Christmas
For all of 2017, we have been reading through the book of 1 Corinthians and asking God to help us rethink certain topics that have been coming up in scripture. This is no different for the Advent season. While our sermon series may not directly reflect the Christmas season, we want to shed light on how the upcoming themes in scripture are deeply related to the Christmas story.
Growing up, we had many family traditions around Christmas, and one of my favourites was eggs benedict. My dad made the sauce from scratch, and it was so tart and delicious that it made any restaurant sauce pale in comparison. Another tradition was throwing tinsel on the tree. If anyone saw my family Christmas tree, they would probably laugh at the eclectic collection of things that had been used as decorations. We had stuffed animals, homemade noodle crafts, a label from a ‘90s Batman toy--a bat symbol strung with ribbon--and plenty of other random delights. Each decoration told a story and was important to my mother in some way. Mom always insisted that we wait until Christmas Eve to decorate. I had my suspicions that this was to avoid having the tree up for too long, but it became a nice family tradition.
In my teenage years, mom and I had a long string of Christmas Day fights--this became a little family tradition as well. We used to say, "Well, now Christmas has officially happened!" when we fought. I wouldn’t doubt that most fights started because of something selfish or insensitive that I had done. Nonetheless, this went on for a number of years.
When I moved out of the house at 17, I had to decide how I was going to spend my Christmases from then on, as I didn't have a great relationship with my parents. Some Christmases I spent with friends and families, and others I spent by myself.
Since becoming a Christian, things have been fundamentally different. I’ve been seeking God's will for my life instead of my own, and I’ve been living for Jesus instead of myself. My transformation changed everything about how I viewed my life, and one of those things was Christmas. God healed me of hurts that I had experienced to be an agent of healing to the world, most immediately to my broken family.
This also started the process of seeing my parents in a new light. God started to show me what they looked like through His eyes. He saw them with compassion, love, patience, and mercy. This was new for me. I had always seen my parents as a hindrance, and I had little patience with them. But I was given hope that what God was doing in me could be done in them. They were lost and broken just like I was. I wanted freedom and new life for them. I wanted them to know that God was at work in the world, restoring and renewing people to life. I wanted them to know that they could also have that because Jesus purchased that for them with his life, death, burial, and resurrection.
Fast forward to this summer, my mother passed away tragically in a boating accident. There was no repentance for her that I saw. There was no turning to Jesus. There was no trust in God. There was only the news late one night from my dad that she had gone overboard in their sailboat as they were trying to cross the Atlantic Ocean.
Some of us have also experienced the loss of an immediate family member. I unexpectedly had to revisit a number of memories and re-experience emotions, which I wasn't prepared for. All of this happened in a season of church growth and reorganization of church leadership. I was also learning how to be a dad while struggling to help my wife who was learning how to be a mom, squeezing in time to maintain my small business that still barely pays the bills, all the while watching multiple friends deal with difficult life circumstances.
Any one of those things would have been enough to break me if Jesus hadn’t carried me through. He somehow gave me supernatural endurance to keep loving my family, keep serving the church, keep training all of our new church leaders, keep working on the business, and steer my father and brother through this difficult season.
Death is the great burden of our day. We don't think much about it in our youth until it’s dropped right in our lap like a cinder block. How are we supposed to think about death as Christians? How was I supposed to navigate the loss of my mother who, barring any last-minute work of God, showed no signs of repentance or trust in Jesus?
Paul wrote a letter to the church in Thessalonica that has been bringing me comfort in these days.
1 Thess 4:13 "But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope."
The first important thing to note here is that it's okay to grieve. When we lose people, we are allowed to show the pain and experience the loss that has come. Paul never takes that away from us but instead reminds us that our grieving looks different because we have hope! We even see Jesus cry at the loss of Lazarus (John 11:35). A lot of us wonder why Jesus grieved. I think it’s because death is a reminder that sin is still eating away at what God made good. It's a reminder that things still aren't right. Death isn't, as we like to say, “just a part of life.” Death is horribly unnatural. It’s not what we were made for as humans. Even though Jesus knew He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, Jesus still wept at the horrible reminder of our mortality.
As Christians, we die knowing we are going to see Jesus face to face. We know that life is a flash in the pan, and we’re on the way to spending eternity with God and being in His presence.
So as Christians, when we lose a fellow Christian, we grieve the loss of a person’s presence and impact on the world for the kingdom. But we ultimately rejoice that our brother or sister’s suffering is finally over and that they are with the Good King for the rest of eternity. We know that their tears will be wiped away by Jesus and they’ll spend their days directly in God’s presence and goodness as they were intended to (Rev 21:4). So for Christians, death represents the beginning of something amazing.
That being said, we do not seek death; we should not prematurely bring death about as God is in control of these things and He has given us things to do in this life (Eph 2:10), but we are most certainly not afraid of it.
As Christians, we still have to answer the questions of our non-Christian friends and family members. Sometimes we don't have time to minister to them when the situation is dire and death is sudden. Other times, we make excuses and say things like "Oh, they just weren't ready for spiritual conversations" or "Well, it was hard to talk about." In either situation, what do we do when we just never get around to sharing the love of Jesus with them with our words? I don't feel like I have an answer other than this: I know who my God is and I trust Him completely with their eternity. I trust in His goodness, I trust in His mercy, I trust in His justice, I trust in His Word, and I trust that He has a clearer view of the big picture than I do. Is my mother in heaven with Jesus? With my human eyes, all evidence points to no. But it’s a good thing it’s not up to me--it's up to someone far more perfect than me. So I’ll trust and I’ll wait until I see Jesus face to face. I cast my burdens on Him, and I’ll allow the church to minister to me in my time of need.
Lastly, when we celebrate family this Christmas, pray for those families who have lost loved ones. Remember Jesus' family who raised that baby to be a man, the God man. He lived a perfect life from the cradle to the cross, and He’s the one who died so that we may truly live. Pray for a renewed perspective on death so we may not be consumed or burdened by it. May we see death as God sees it.
If you don't yet understand the story of Jesus or have questions about death, please don't hesitate to ask. You can email me anytime here: firstname.lastname@example.org