I was getting ready for Christmas Eve services this morning, and as I was deciding what to wear, I decided at the last minute to put on my dress shirt with the French cuffs. After my dad died last April, I have sometimes worn his cuff links as a way of keeping him close to me. This just seemed the thing to do for my first Christmas without him. Then out of nowhere, it hit me. The overwhelming feeling of grief … the profound sense of loss … and the realization that I had failed to mourn. My friend and coach, Don Eisenhauer, has reinforced to me the need to understand those things separately. Grief is the feeling of loss within our soul, while mourning is the overt way of giving expression to our grief. With everything that has happened, I have not mourned … until today.
But today is Christmas Eve … this was simply NOT the time to start mourning. We have four services at Wellspring, and I simply do not have time for this. But I couldn’t stop crying or seeing only the darkness of that first Christmas without my dad. This just had to stop.
Then the realization began to set in. Perhaps this is the best time for me to mourn. As I refreshed myself on my sermon and began to put it into note form on the 1/2 sheet of paper that I will carry in my bible, I saw it as if for the very first time. Historically, we really don’t know the exact time of the birth of Jesus. The early church celebrated the birth of Jesus in various months until, in 350, Pope Julius I declared it to be December 25 to replace the pagan festival of Saturnalia honoring the Greek god, Saturn. And Saturn is the god, in Greek culture, that brings us melancholy and sadness. Why was it celebrated at this time? Because the winter solstice has just happened. The longest night of the year brings the greatest amount of darkness.
And the Christian proclamation is that Christ is the light that has come to conquer the darkness. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light.” (John 1:5, CEB) So in some sense, the Greeks acknowledged the sadness and the darkness in our lives, but the tendency is to stop there. We are not trapped by the darkness, and the Christian proclamation is that the darkness will not last because the light of God shines for all eternity.
As I considered my own darkness, yes, it was time to mourn. As I went through the day, all I could think about Jesus saying that we are blessed when we mourn. I think Eugene Peterson had it right in his paraphrase known as The Message. In the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, Peterson paraphrases Jesus this way: “You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.” And that, friends, is the greatest message of Christmas for me.
So Dad, I am really missing you this Christmas. Yes, I am mourning as I should, but rest peacefully. I have awakened amidst the darkness to discover that I, like you, am held by the One most dear to us all. The darkest night of the year … the dead of winter … is now past, and the light of hope shines eternally.
It is a challenge sometimes, but I think I remember who I am! I am a child of hope!