To be grieving at this time of year brings a bag of mixed feelings, to say the least.
While everyone else is celebrating and enjoying the festivities of the season, you are also working through the loss of a dear [mother, wife, grandmother, sister, great-grandmother, aunt] and friend. Well-meaning friends may try to cheer you up because they do not want you to be a damper on the holiday spirit.
You may not know whether to stay at home and grieve, or go out to those get-togethers you’ve been invited to and try to be cheerful. Christmas is a challenging time to do the work of remembering, crying, grieving, and feeling sad.
But I would encourage you to do it anyway — to embrace the ambivalence of, on the one hand, expressing your grief when you need to; and, on the other, continuing to observe the season of holy birth. And it’s not all that inconsistent with a deeper meaning of the Christmas story:
After all, I can’t help but to think how that first Christmas must have felt for God the Father in heaven. The Gospel John tells us that in the beginning, the Word — Jesus, God’s Son — was with God. But because of the age-old, human rebellion against God, God nevertheless loved us so much God sent Jesus to be born into the world.
Think about what this cost God: That first Christmas was for God and Jesus a separation of sorts — a breaking of the intimate communion that they had shared from before the beginning of time. That’s a long time of being together! God, I am sure, can feel for the loss of someone with whom you have lived day-in and day-out for most of your life.
And worse yet, the way that God the Father and Son were going to be re-united was by Jesus’ death as a human being, on the Cross of Calvary. Christmas, thus, made Easter possible. The joy and priceless gifts of Christmas and Easter were wrought from the divine sacrifice of separation, loss and death.
In other words, birth and death are connected. In every birth, there is a death; in every death, there is a birth. So it is not inappropriate that we gather for a funeral service in the very season in which we celebrate a holy birth. It was the birth of God in our world that eventually gave the world the promise of new life and resurrection. It was the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem two thousand years ago that made it possible for us today to claim the promise of new life, eternal life, for your dearly beloved.
You spoke of your loved one as a “mother hen” of not only your immediate family, but of the neighborhood. She taught not only you but many of the kids living on this street how to swim. She demanded obedience to her rules — around the pool and around the table after school. An Opera music fan, she demonstrated motherly love by listening to Billy Idol and the Beatles only so she could relate to her teenage children. Her strong, motherly, supportive, family-oriented qualities will remain enduring memories and qualities in your own lives, even though she is now separated from you by death.
A separation in birth is similar to a separation in death. But both yield the gift of new life. I have an identical twin brother; and we have been very close all our lives long. So, this wonderful story about two twin babies, in their mother’s womb, rings true for me: Safe and secure, warm and fed, these twin babies slowly and quietly grew.
But when it came close to the time of birth, they began to fear what was about to happen. They didn’t want to leave the womb which had been their warm and comfortable home for so long, the place where they had everything they needed given to them. The prospect of leaving this warm and familiar place, and venturing into the unknown outside the womb, just terrified them.
But they also had this inkling that there must be something outside this womb, and someone, a mother, outside this womb caring for and loving them. They sometimes even heard loving voices coming from outside the womb.
And so they were ambivalent at best, fearful at worse, but couldn’t do anything about it. The time came for them to be born, and they just had to do it.
They cried as they were born into the new air and light. They coughed out fluid and gasped the dry air. And when they were sure they were born, they opened their eyes — seeing life after birth for the very first time.
What they saw, were the beautiful eyes of their mother, lovingly gazing upon them, as they were cradled in her arms. They knew they were home.
Your beloved has come home, and is seeing the loving eyes of God gazing upon her this day. And we all, whether on earth, or in heaven, are held in the safe and secure arms of God who loves us for eternity.