It was a dreary Tuesday: gray, cloudy sky and drizzling rain. Perhaps the earth was shedding tears in anticipation of what was to come.
That night, the father of a dear friend went home to be with the Lord. Suddenly, without warning, my friend and her five younger siblings found themselves without a dad.
It was a tragic blow, not only for her and her family, but for us her friends, as we contemplated the brevity and fragility of life.
As Casting Crowns put it, “I am a flower quickly fading / Here today and gone tomorrow / A wave tossed in the ocean / A vapor in the wind.”
I’ve noticed a change in my attitude in the days that have followed since then. Family has meant more. Making memories together has been more important. Playing games with siblings has happened more often. I’ve started to reintroduce the habit of kissing my parents “good night” before bed: a habit that previously I’d been dropping. Little Brother’s insistence on smothering me with a kiss “goodbye” in the mornings before I leave for work has been more fully welcomed – even initiated by myself now.
It had happened right after Thanksgiving. I was glad that my friend had enjoyed one last holiday with her dad. But as I turned on the radio Wednesday morning, I was reminded that Christmas was not far off. The cheerful songs grated against the heaviness in my heart, and I quickly turned them off. It certainly didn’t feel anymore like “the most wonderful time of the year.”
Or did it?
In my grief, I found myself thinking more deeply about the true meaning of Christmas. My thoughts brushed quickly past the holiday shopping and merriment, past even the spirit and joy of giving, and rested on the true Reason for the season: Jesus Christ.
It was with a heart of gratitude that I contemplated Jesus’ birth that occurred all those years ago. Because I know the reason that He was born in the first place:
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.
Phil 2:5-8, NKJV
Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?’
For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.
1 Cor. 15:3-4
But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death.
1 Cor. 15:20-26
So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.‘ ‘O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?‘
1 Cor. 15:54-57
It is because of Christmas that we have true hope and joy and peace.
It is because of Christmas that my friend can have hope of one day seeing her dad again in glory.
For unless Jesus had come, what hope would there be? None at all!
But He did come.
And we do have hope. Great hope.
And as I reflect on this hope and the true meaning of Christmas, I realize it is indeed still “the most wonderful time of the year.” Even in the midst of sorrow, we can rejoice. Why?
Because God came down. Because God is with us. Because for all who are His, to close our eyes in death here is only to open our eyes in eternal life with Him. Because death is not forever. Because Jesus has triumphed over death and extended the greatest Christmas gift of all – the gift of salvation from sin and the promise of eternal life with our Savior.
“Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. . . . Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
Luke 2:10-11, 14
My friend wrote a beautifully touching blog post the day after the funeral. I highly encourage you to read it: be inspired by the legacy her dad has left behind, and be encouraged by the hope that his passing was only the closing of one chapter and the start of hundreds more.
As C. S. Lewis put it in his final installment to the Chronicles of Narnia series:
And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.
from The Last Battle
May each of you truly come to appreciate Christmas Hope this year.