Saturday, December 10, 2016

Sometimes Christmas is not so "Merry"

It was Christmas Eve day and I received a call from the nurse in the hospital emergency room. Someone had just passed and the family asked for me to be there. I left immediately. When I entered the emergency department the nurse came out and brought me back to the room where the family was. I entered to find the husband sitting beside the table where his wife had passed away just a few minutes before. They were young, and had three boys. It was the day before Christmas, and the boys' mother had just died suddenly as a result of complications from pneumonia.

The boys were not there yet, and all they knew at that moment was that their mother was sick; they had no idea of what had happened. The dad had his sister-in-law bring the boys to the emergency room so that he could tell them, and he asked that I be there with him for support. Before the boys arrived, I counseled the dad on how to break the news to them. It did not make it any easier, but he at least had a basic "script" to follow.

What floated through my mind during those minutes while we waited for the boys to arrive was that they would always think of Christmas as the time that their mother died. When you think about it, it sort of makes Ebenezer Scrooge look like he had it easy. Loss of a loved one at any time hurts, but during Advent or Christmas time it can hurt a million times worse.

Why does God allow things like this to happen? You may be hoping that I will give a short pithy answer that will clear it up for you, and you will never wonder again about it. Sorry, but I do not have the ability to do that. God has not reached down and revealed that to me. I can say this though: God knows what He is doing, and why He allows things like this to happen, even when we cannot make heads or tails of it. These kind of things, as painful as they are, always are an opportunity to come closer to Him and receive more of His grace.

When we miss that opportunity, it is usually because we turn our focus to something other than God, and that can always be detrimental. There are many times throughout our lives (as well as throughout the Church Calendar) that we are able to draw closer to God, but there are also forces at work in the spiritual realm that are trying to prevent us. Christmas is no different. It can easily get derailed by all of the extras. I personally love the gifts, the food and the family time (though not in that order), but they are what I am calling the "extras". The heart of Christmas, as we all know, is Christ Himself.

It may sound like He is being selfish to want to be the focus of our celebration, but it is not out of pride that He does this, but, rather, out of a love for us. You see, He knows that we will find our greatest joy in focusing on Him because all of the other things are minor joys that do not last. This is why, I believe, that He allows (or causes) trials and painful events to happen even (or especially) during the Christmas or pre-Christmas season.

The only challenge that strikes our minds so harshly, is the mistaken notion that death is a punishment for the one who passes. Death certainly can be a punishment, but it is not always so, and only God genuinely knows when it is. Furthermore, this becomes clearer when we realize that death is not the worst thing that can happen to someone. Yes, it is painful for us who remain; and especially so at this time of the year. Yet, as C.S. Lewis said so long ago, pain is God's megaphone; He uses it to get our attention (and it works so well, does it not?).

So I cannot explain exactly why God does not halt all sad events during the Advent and Christmas season. Many people today think that it should be so. But then, that would be a misunderstanding of what Christmas is all about. It is not merely about being as happy as is humanly possible and ignoring all sad or difficult events. When we remember all the details about Joseph and Mary's trials at the time of Jesus' birth, we cannot say that it was easy for them either. I do believe, however, that the difficulties that they experienced, helped them to appreciate better the grace of God during those events.

So then, what do we do when we experience loss or hardship during this season? We can either weaken or strengthen our faith. We can either grow closer to God, or further away from God. Which do you want to do? Are you prepared for a traumatic event at this time of the year (assuming that you have not already experienced one)? It is OK to ask God "why?" as long as we are humble and willing to accept that He may not answer specifically. There is one answer that He always gives at these times, and we each need to hear it again so that we will not forget it: "Because I know what is best for you, now trust Me".