Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am languishing;
O LORD, heal me, for my bones are shaking with terror.
I am weary with my moaning;
every night I flood my bed with tears;
I drench my couch with my weeping.
My eyes waste away because of grief.
~from Psalm 6
We are now in a season of lights and carols, of shiny wrapped gifts and happy parties. On the outside, we are supposed to be merry and bright. But on the inside, some of us resonate more with the psalmist whose bones shake with terror; this psalmist who floods his (or her) bed with tears every night.
Or maybe our bones aren’t shaking and our bed isn’t flooded, but the carefree fa-la-la-la-las nevertheless ring hollow. The grief that we carry throughout the year becomes a bit sharper just at this time when we are supposed to be joyful.
We get Christmas cards with pictures of happy, smiling families and we grieve the broken relationships in our own family. We gather with family and friends, keenly aware of the ones who have died–those that should be there, but are not. During this time of Santa and stories and gifts, many mourn the children they did not have; some mourn the things they cannot give to their loved ones because money is too tight. There are as many causes for grief as for celebration in these festive weeks.
It will be a difficult season for me. My first Christmas since Dad died. I won’t be buying him any dark chocolate or KU merchandise or turtles. I won’t be opening any new jewelry that he has made in his lapidary. For me, for my family, there is a deep grief in the midst of the anticipation and joy.
The good news for us, though, the blessing for those who mourn during this time, is that our Christian faith provides an alternative to the loud sounds and bright lights of the season. Our faith gives us Advent, a time of deep waiting. At it’s heart, Advent is an acknowledgment of our deep need . . . and it is a celebration of God’s response to that need in Jesus Christ.
If there were no sorrow and grief, no loss and longing, then the incarnation would not have been necessary–the Christ child would not have come.
So this is what I want to say to everyone whose raw grief rubs up against the surface sparkle of the season: Your sorrow is not counter to the story of Jesus’ birth. It is an integral part of the story. It is the reason for the story.
The happiness of Christmas is fleeting. The joy of Christmas is in knowing the One who bears our grief with us, who heals and redeems us. Amen.
(This post is adapted from the reflections I shared at last night’s Advent service of prayer and anointing.)