EMAIL DEVOTIONAL week of AdVENT 2
Most of us try to avoid death at every turn. We don’t talk about it … when we are in the presence of the dead we often keep our distance … at times we even act as if we will never die, even though we know better. During the Christmas holidays we are especially resistant to any encounters with death.
But some of you are all too aware that death never takes a holiday. Many of us have had death touch our lives and the lives of our families during the Christmas season. Odd as it may seem, in some ways, the Christmas season is a natural time to reflect in a healthy way upon the presence of death in our world. After all, Jesus birth in the manger is simply the first act in a drama that inevitably comes to conclusion on the cross of Golgotha. As theologians are apt to say in times of blunt speech, “Jesus is born to die.”
For that reason, for the past 20 or so years we have been sponsoring a Sunday night healing service the weekend prior to Christmas Eve. We call it The Darkest Night Service. It usually lands a few days from the winter solstice, the longest (and thus darkest) night of the year. Most of the people who come are struggling with the death of loved ones in their lives, or serious illnesses in their own lives or the lives of their family, or brokenness in their family and friendship circles. It is typically a rather small gathering, but it is one of the most meaningful services I have the privilege of leading each year. One prayer in the liturgy we use during the candle-lighting rite offers these words:
We light this fourth candle in order to confess our loss of faith, in times of doubt and uncertainty. With it, we express our deep and troubling questions, asking God to visit us again with confidence and hope.
It summarizes the intent of the service … that of confronting the places where our faith struggles in life, and asking God to break through that darkness with hope and light and promise. The birth of the baby in the manger is the tangible reminder to us that God intends to bring this gift of hope and healing to us.
Whether you come to the service or not this year, I hope you will find a few moments this season to seep yourself in prayer in ways that allow you to tap the grief that resides within you. Life and death and inextricably linked for us as children of God, and hope and grief are equally yoked together. And the resolution of both is that which brings us into the loving and healing presence of God. St. Paul, in his first correspondence with the church in Thessalonica wrote these words.
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.
May these words be so for us too, this year and always. Pray without ceasing, especially if you are coping with grief and loss, and may the God of hope visit you this Christmas.