“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”
—Winnie the Pooh
Leave it to Winnie the Pooh to say something so simply and so wisely!
Here we are entering into the Second Week of Advent—rushing, it seems, towards Christmas. We’re busy about so many things: Christmas shopping, decorating, office parties, special family events. All good.
But for some folks, the rush towards Christmas is disorienting, even painful. These wounded souls are mourning their first Christmas without a loved one. And all they want is the world to stop. “Why,” they wonder, “does everyone run around like everything is normal, like nothing has changed? EVERYTHING is different! My husband, wife, mom, dad, child, dear friend is gone, not here for Christmas. It’s just not the same.” Indeed, for those in mourning, rushing towards Christmas seems like rushing towards a heart hurt, an emptiness, a void, a deep dark sorrow—one that they dread to feel.
I remember our first Christmas without my father. He died in October. Two months later, on Christmas morning, my mother, who had stayed over my rectory on Christmas Eve, stepped out of her bedroom to get ready for all the family to show up for our Christmas Day festivities. As in years past, my family would be gathering in my rectory for a fun time with all the grandkids running all over the “castle” (as they called my rectory), giggling and shouting and playing, busting to open the Christmas gifts, while the rest of us enjoyed some food and spirits. I clearly recall how this particular year my mom just stood at the bedroom door and looked at me with tear-squinted eyes, and nodded her head left to right, a mournful “no,” a quiet protest to the joy she was “supposed to” be feeling on Christmas morn. “This is just too hard. I’m just tired.” It still makes me cry when I think of it. So not my “Christmas mother.” Yet such is the nature of grief.
Now we did go on to have a wonderful Christmas Day. What made the pain bearable was including the memory of dad in the day’s celebration. “Can you imagine pop-pop seeing all this mess?! He would have had all this ripped up wrapping paper all gathered up in a trash bag by now.” Yeah, another grandkid answered, “And he’d have all our Christmas boxes in order and ready to take home.” And we all laughed and pictured just how it would have been. And throughout the day, there were other memories, other laughs, other moments of bringing dad right into the room with us. It wasn’t perfect, of course. But allowing ourselves to acknowledge his absence and to make him present in memory on such a special day—it was a comfort.
“Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God. . . Speak tenderly. . . ”
So says Isaiah in the first reading for this Second Sunday of Advent. Such consoling words!
God knows our pain; God feels tenderly towards us and God wants to comfort us. In fact, we believe that at Christmas we celebrate the God who so strongly desires to comfort us that he took on flesh to be with us. Isn’t that what Christmas is all about? Isn’t that the heart of our Christian faith: Emmanuel, God-with-us.
Our faith proclaims the radical truth that our God is not some distant observer, some Ruler-in-the-Sky watching our every move to make sure we stay in line and keep good order. Our God is the One so passionately in love with us that he is completely immersed in everything aspect of our lives, even (and perhaps especially) our dis-order. God who is Life, God who is Love, God who is Love-Life, is here, comforting us with the assurance of his tender compassion and with the certainty that even in the darkest places—even in a smelly manger in Bethlehem, even at a Cross on Calvary, even in sorrow and grieving and pain and suffering, even in death—God is present, God is with us! And because God is Love-Life, God’s love brings life and draws us into his own Eternal Love-Life.
We know this to be true. We celebrate this every time we gather for Eucharist. And we are strengthened by Love-Life every time we receive Communion as God’s free gift, God’s edible assurance that he is immersed in our hurting hearts, nurturing them, healing them, sustaining them and filling them with Love-Life.
And we know that, like Winnie says, we are lucky to have had something that makes saying goodbye so hard. And we are grateful for such “luck.”
Yet, let’s be honest. Sometimes, in the thick of grief and suffering, we can know that this is all true and yet we still want something else, something “more.” We want mom back; we want our dad, our child, our spouse our loved one, right in front of us just one more time, one more moment, just once more. . . Or we just want to slow down, to stop, to cry.
And that is why it is so important for those of us not grieving at the moment, to be Love-Life for those who mourn, to be the presence that lets them weep, lets them nod their head back and forth in protest cause it’s just “too hard.” And even those mourning can be Love-Life for each other, giving permission to call out the name of the loved one, to bring them into the present Christmas moment with stories and memories and laughter and tears.
Here at Saint Miriam Parish, we will be Love-Life for each other and for all who mourn in a special way this weekend, this Second Sunday of Advent. We invite all who are mourning, all who are struggling through a “Blue Christmas,” all who are weary to join us at our 11:00 Eucharist this Sunday, December 10th. There we will give all the opportunity to gather together, to stand side by side and to light a candle for their loved ones being mourned and missed this Christmas Season, to call their name out loud as they present their candle to God, who is Love-Life, before our Tabernacle. As as the light shines, we acknowledge both our sorrow and our joy that our loved ones are with us, especially as heaven and earth are united together around God’s Table and we feast together on the Love that binds us in time and eternity. If you are mourning, please join us. If you desire to be a comfort to those who mourn, please accompany us!
Indeed, God told Isaiah, “Comfort, give comfort to my people.” And he says it to us too: Don’t forget those who mourn this Christmas Season. By all means, run around with your Christmas preparations, get ready to celebrate life and love and, above all, to celebrate Love-Life enfleshed in Jesus with family and friends! But remember why Love-Life took on flesh: to give comfort, to be the Comforting Presence who assures us of Love with us always. And then don’t forget to give comfort to those who mourn. Don’t shy away from those who are hurting.
Give comfort, give comfort. And know, that in doing so, you are close to the heart of Christmas, comforting those who mourn until finally the Day dawns when it won’t be hard to say goodbye because there will be no more goodbyes to say, as we enjoy each other anew, steeped in