Season’s Grievings

7 Dec

My 3 month old son Peter died on the Feast of Christ the King, 2006. That year, it was the Sunday following Thanksgiving. As we buried him right before the start of Advent that year, many people commented to us on how the impending holidays must have compounded our grief. I won’t pretend that it was fun to pass by the “baby’s first Christmas” sleepers, or to see TV commercials where rosy-faced children are snuggling up to the hearth with homemade sugar cookies and cocoa. Our secular culture has labeled December “the most wonderful time of the year.” Needless to say, grieving the sudden death of a baby is in stark contrast to these images and can make grief seem a little fresher.

All that being said, that year I entered into Advent in a deeper and richer way than I think I ever had before. For four Sundays, we could leave the jingle bells of the outside world and enter into a sanctuary where all was quiet, and expectant, and still. Our souls were mirrored in the hauntingly beautiful liturgies. We heard Isaiah speak of the longing of God’s people to be brought back from the land of exile. We heard them pour out their sufferings and their fears. And God’s reply? I have not forgotten you. A day is coming when every tear will be wiped away, when “no longer will there be an infant who lives but a few days” (Isaiah 65:19-20).

Advent is a time of waiting, a time of penance, which I think is uniquely suited for those who suffer. By definition suffering is a lack of something good that should be there. We suffer because we should be healthy, but we are not. We should have peaceful family relationships, but instead they are a mess. We should have our loved ones with us, but instead we are separated by death. In the beginning, we were created in a state of perfection where sickness and death had no place. It was original sin that screwed things up. And the baby we celebrate at Christmas is Jesus– the Child of promise, the One that God promised would right the wrongs of the Fall. It is this Child that the Israelites hoped for down through the generations. Advent is a time of joining in their waiting. We remember the long dark years before he came. We wait for him to come with a unique gift of grace to our own hearts now to help to heal and strengthen us, and of course we wait in joyful hope for his coming again in glory.

Even Christmas does not need to be a foreign time for those who grieve. Of course, it is hard to be suffering during a time that makes joyful memories sting, or while it seems everyone else is wrapped in tinsel and gingerbread and laughter. But again, we need to go deeper into what Christmas really is. Did the baby Jesus get to drink egg nog and go caroling and open presents? No. He was rejected by those He came to save and was born in a barn filled with animals. Yes, He was given gifts, but two of the three reminded His parents that He was to suffer and die. On the day of His presentation, Mary was told a sword would pierce her heart. And to top it all off, the newborn had to flee the swords of soldiers out to mortally wound Him.

This isn’t intended to make Christmas a downer. It remains a time of great joy. Why? Because Jesus intentionally entered into our suffering. He chose to come and be with us while we wait for the days of glory. Christmas teaches us that God is with us in our sorrows, that He brings great good from them (if we let Him) so that one day we can celebrate with Him in the joy of heaven.

So, this Advent, like every one we have celebrated in the past five years, will have its moments of sadness. We will put ornaments on the tree that remind us of our little saints Peter and Gianna. We will have a moment when we see our two children and wonder what our two missing kids would be doing. But our loss also helps us deeply and sincerely pray with the whole communion of saints, “Come, Lord Jesus!”

My hope for all who grieve this Advent is that they do not allow themselves to feel like outsiders, but rather find true comfort and joy in the coming of the Christ Child.

2 Responses to “Season’s Grievings”

  1. rose December 7, 2011 at 2:33 pm #

    A beautiful heartfelt post. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Betsy Schleeter December 7, 2011 at 10:17 pm #

    Thank you for sharing your heart and faith. Your faith in the midst of such deep suffering brings hope to all you meet. Bless you!

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