Recently, I listened to a talk on Mary Winslow. She suffered much in her life, burying several children and losing her husband after she had sailed from England to America with her ten children. Those kinds of loses are deep, dark valleys. They come because we live in a Genesis 3 world – cursed because of original sin.
But as I thought about Mary Winslow and other past saints who suffered similar griefs from death and illness, I wondered if in our lives, our griefs often come in the form of consequences directly related to specific sins. We have fewer, more curable diseases, lower infant mortality, safer modes of travel, and more comfortable homes than Christians of past centuries. But aspects of our culture mean that we have more of other griefs: ones like divorce, addictions, past or present abuse that create ongoing, unresolved, and very messy griefs. These griefs are different griefs than those caused by deaths or illness, but they are just as difficult.
As major social occasions, holidays are a time of year that people who have lost loved ones are so painfully reminded of their loss. And it is also a time when others are reminded of the brokenness of their lives. One Christmas, we had friends who were dealing with a child with cancer that looked as though it would take the child’s life—the grief of a broken world. Other friends were dealing with a child who was turning his back on the faith and rebelling in stark ways against his family and their faith—the grief of broken people. This year, my family’s celebrations will be difficult because we will miss a little niece 3000 kilometers away in a neonatal intensive care unit—the grief of a broken world. Christmas will also be difficult because of a marriage ripped apart by adultery and divorce—the grief of broken people.
Often, we don’t get the Christmas we planned or hoped for. But for some reason, if we are believers, whatever kind of holiday we have is the best one for us and brings God glory. Grief at Christmas can actually drive home the point of Christmas: Christ’s first coming ensured that our sins against God and others can be forgiven. God can heal people. And Christ’s second coming will make all things right. God will make everything new. That’s a wonderful promise for any grieving believer to cling to this December.