Grief and Christmas

As a pastor I can tell you that deaths do not happen evenly over the course of a year. Death seems to be concentrated into the colder months. At my congregation we would typically have 8 to 12 funerals a year. This year, since mid-October we have already had 9 deaths with no doubt more to come before Spring. Covid only partially explains the rise.

This reality means that many deaths happen around the holidays, leaving grief perpetually connected with a day that is supposed to be happy. The same type of association can happen with hymns. We often play a person’s favorite hymn at their funeral, which often ruins it for us. “How Great Thou Art” is a hymn that many people can’t listen to for that reason.

Having a painful association points to having an incomplete and ineffective grieving process. Remembering shouldn’t hurt after a while. If we are still hurting, then we are dwelling on what we have lost versus focusing on the promise of eternal life and a future reunion. This, of course, hinges on having eternal life through Jesus.

The Christmas season will be the source of many cherished family memories. It should be. But the Christmas season is misspent if it is focused primarily on family and not focused on Christ. Celebrating the birth of Christ is celebrating God coming into the world to give a most precious gift.

The Son of God became a human to place himself under the jurisdiction of God’s Law. He came as the child of a virgin so that he would not be born with a sinful nature like the rest of us. Instead, he could remain sinless for life. He then could do something for us that is an incredible act of sacrificial love. When dying on the cross, Jesus was forsaken by his Father as a substitute for his Father forsaking us. To be forsaken, utterly abandoned by God, is the punishment required for sin. If you are connected to Jesus through baptism, your eternal punishment is done.

If your loved one died as a believer in Jesus as their Savior, they are alive with Jesus. Do not look back, look forward. If you also are in Christ, then there are more good times, even better than the best ahead. Let the celebration of the birth of a Savior take you there, at least for awhile. Be sure to also make the most of those who are still alive and with you.

I would say the same for “How Great Thou Art”, or any hymn for that matter. It sure not remind you of loss but rather of gain. Train your brain to do this. Catch yourself when you think about the loss, remind yourself of God’s promise and then imagine what you still cannot see. Do not wallow in loss. It is not forgetting your loved one, it is remembering them properly.

Are You Ready?

We all know that we are going to die someday.  Still, that often seems distant and surreal.  Occasionally, an event may make death, including your death, a little more real.  A pandemic can fill that role.

Most people won’t catch the coronavirus, I think.  Most who do catch it won’t be that sick or even show symptoms at all.  But some will face death and plenty will experience it.  How ready are you?  It is fair question to ask yourself at any age or in any form of health.

Your answer will be very much influenced by your worldview.  If you believe in some form of reincarnation, death may scare you, but the results are not final.  If you believe that you must stand before an almighty, but somewhat unpredictable, Allah; then death is very intimidating. If you are convinced that there is nothing beyond the grave, then death is depressing but unavoidable and not a big deal.  If you believe in some generic form of Heaven for being good enough, then death is again frightening and uncertain.  How convinced are you that any of these worldviews are accurate?

I am personally quite convinced that these worldviews are all inaccurate and that one’s worldview does not shape what happens after death. What comes next comes regardless of what you have believed.   I am also convinced that in the history of mankind only one person gives authoritative insight into what happens next and also provides a good outcome.  That person is Jesus because:

  • He has many credible witnesses that testify that He did miraculous things, including raising people from the dead
  • He has many credible witnesses, including former doubters, that He rose from the dead
  • He fulfilled prophetic writings that were clearly written long before His birth.
  • His teachings fit with our experience of self and the world.
  • Archeology affirms many of the details that surround Him
  • Out of body experiences seem to confirm the existence of both Heaven and Sheol.

Jesus himself states, “I am the way and the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.”   Jesus and the New Testament authors explain why this would be so.  God requires sinlessness, and none of us meet that standard.  Someone had to be a sinless human being in order to fulfill God’s Law and take the consequences of sin on themselves.  To be sinless, you would have to be born sinless and continue to the end.  The Bible explains that we are all sinful from conception onward.  Jesus’ unusual birth (a virgin birth) allowed him to be born without a sinful nature (genetically distorted to naturally be alienated from God).  Jesus is unique in this way.  Also, if any other process could give us eternal life with God, then Jesus would never have been asked to do what He did.  He not only died on the cross, He was forsaken by the Father as our surrogate.

Connection to Jesus to receive the benefits of His life and the promise of eternal life is both simple and impossible.  In our natural condition we would never believe Jesus’ story or His promises.  That’s what sinful nature does.  It is a good thing that God is working to supersede sinful nature or it would be impossible.  God creates faith.  Some highly unlikely people have come to have faith:  hardcore atheists, very evil people, strong adherents of other worldviews.  God wants to save people.  He wants us to be ready.  We and our children can be connected to Jesus and eternal life through baptism.  That much is simple.

Being Heaven-bound (saved) doesn’t necessarily mean that you won’t have questions or doubts.  When God does get a hold of you there are signs:  growing confidence in Jesus, growing confidence in your own salvation, a love for God, a hunger to learn, etc.  Our circumstances and the remaining flaws of our sinful nature may diminish some of the signs; but we may still be ready, especially if we have been baptized.

It is a great feeling to know that you are ready.  In fact, more than ready–looking forward to it.  As this blog explains, there is much to avoid (Sheol, Hell) and much to look forward to (Heaven, Resurrection and the New Earth).  The greater your confidence is in Christ, the less a pandemic seems like a reason to panic.