The year 2011 was a particularly hard Christmas season for our family. One of the things God used to encourage me the most was the following post by my friend Sharifa Stevens, who has given me permission to repost it below. Read on:
Grandma smelled like comfort and cold cream when she hugged me. I can’t open a bottle of Pond’s in public because one whiff reminds me that she’s not here anymore. The slip-slip of her feet on linoleum in the morning, the perfectly crustless PB&J sandwiches that she made me, her church hats and bright suits. Gone.
The cadence of her voice when she scolded me, or, ninja-like under the strict eye of my mother, scored me some peppermints. Gone. Her faithful and tone-deaf hymn-singing morning and evening. She unwittingly taught me the words of great songs of the faith, even if I didn’t learn the melodies until later.
Cocoa powder, stirred in frothy, hot milk, but without the sugar. The shock of rich bittersweetness that goes down warm, but thick. Christmas, with its beauty, worship, and goodness, can still be difficult to digest because of notes of bereavement, loneliness, and disappointment.
My grandmother won’t be sneaking peppermints to my son. My husband will never know how proud his dad would be of his strength of character, and tenderness with his own son. Some beautiful friends of mine will have to contend once again with traditions of mistletoe and New Year’s Eve kisses, sticking in the craw of their loneliness, implying that they are incomplete without the husband and the children.
These are punch-in-the-gut reminders that we live in the time between Advents. Times of “Thy kingdom come [right now, please!], Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” because the present circumstances of affliction that Paul mentions in 2 Corinthians 4 seem anything but light, or momentary, and heaven is far, far away.
We are incomplete. All of us. Christmas on this side of Jesus’ birth is a Grand Ellipsis, an uncomfortable and prolonged inhale, an ache for God to be once more with us, face to face.
Paul speaks in 2 Corinthians 4 in light of eternity, because the present was hard to bear. 2 Corinthians 4:7-8 makes that clear. Christmas brings our hope into stark clarity; what do we believe about this boy child born of a virgin? What does our future hold beyond the thick bittersweetness?
Resurrection and return. 2 Corinthians 4:13-14 says: “But since we have the same spirit of faith as that shown in what has been written, “I believed; therefore I spoke,” we also believe, therefore we also speak. We do so because we know that the one who raised up Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus and will bring us with you into his presence.”
We will be raised and brought into the presence of Jesus. Again: We will be raised and brought into the presence of Jesus.
We believe, therefore we must speak: Yes, we are all incomplete, yes, we are on the side of things where the loss of loved ones and the death of dreams are all too common; yet, we have the words of life.
Christmas is an opportunity to be mindful that there are hurting, grieving people all around us, whom we have the privilege of comforting, validating, and encouraging (even as we, perhaps, suffer the same affliction). We can rob trite traditions of their power with a word of truth, adorning the hurting with the light of hope, scattering darkness. Jesus himself invaded the earth in the midst of silence and darkness, after a Grand Ellipsis. He enters our darkness, too, a Great Light of hope, once wrapped in swaddling clothes, once wrapped in grave clothes, and coming again to wrap us in fresh, gleaming righteousness. We are not abandoned. He’s coming back.
There would not be resurrection without death. As I mourn the 14th anniversary of the loss of my grandmother this Christmas season, I believe the weight of the joy of our reunion in glory will render this present grief as momentary, light and, finally, gone.