This is our seventh Christmas without my brother. He would be 26 now, probably married, and as much as he loved kids, he most likely would have been trying to keep up with the size of our family. Christmas is always bittersweet; all the holidays and family gatherings are. There will always be a void, an empty seat, painful reminders of his absence.
I’m not an expert on grief, but if there’s anything I’ve learned through loss, it’s that somehow grief and joy can coexist.
This used to make me feel guilty. I remember clearly the day I arrived at my parents’ house, the day after we found out my brother had been killed. I fell into my Mom’s arms weeping, trying to comfort her but also feeling the sting of my own pain. Not five minutes later we were smiling at Isabella’s attempts to crawl. She was 9 months old and just beginning to master this new skill. Was it okay to laugh? Could joy be present in the midst of our suffering?
As the years have gone by I have seen this happen in a number of ways. I love visiting the church I grew up in, but sitting in the auditorium during a service also brings back reminders of David’s funeral. It took me five years before I could sit through a church service without crying. My parents’ home is a refuge for me and I always look forward to being there, but going into my brother’s room hurt so much that for close to three years I would keep the door closed and refuse to enter. We laugh as a family when we’re together and we share goofy memories about David. We go on vacation together, celebrate holidays, take pictures, and have a good time. But we also cry with one another, talk about David’s absence, and ask each other hard questions about how we’re handling our grief.
We miss him terribly, but we also enjoy being with each other. We long for the day when we will be with him in heaven, but we also have to live life to the fullest here on earth.
Time doesn’t stop when we experience loss. I wish it did. I wish we had the space to feel the depths of our sorrows and walk through the valleys without the pressures of everyday normal life. It would be nice to hold sorrow for awhile and then exchange it for complete joy. The paradox of their coexistence will forever baffle me.
In the same way that the mingling of grief and joy confound me, I also find contentment and longing to be equally confusing.
We are content in Christ, knowing that we have been granted the promise of eternal life. Yet we still suffer the brokenness of this world. We feel contentment with the good gifts God grants us in life. Yet we long for the things we haven’t obtained: marriage, children, good health, the salvation of a loved one, a perfect job, a new (and bigger) home, time (and money) to pursue our dreams.
When our longings go unfulfilled we feel discouragement, despair, even anger. We grieve the things we want but don’t receive, or have but get taken away.
The glorious gift of Advent, when Jesus comes again, is that one day we will receive what we never deserved and obtain an inheritance that can never be destroyed.
The longing we feel for Jesus and heaven is a longing with a promise.
After Jesus was born Mary and Joseph took him to the temple to offer a sacrifice, as was the custom. They were met by Simeon, a man who was “righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel.”
And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, ‘Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.’ (Luke 2:26-32)
Simeon had been promised this moment and when it came his response was to worship God. His encounter with Jesus was one of joyful worship because he had seen the salvation of Israel. He was holding the hope of the world in his arms and he couldn’t hold back his praise. He was filled with incredible joy because his longing had been fulfilled.
This will be us one day. When we see Jesus face to face in all of his glory (1 John 3:2) we will fall down in worship. We will stand around the throne with countless others praising the Lamb who was slain and who is alone is worthy of praise. Our eyes will behold God’s salvation and we will become undone. We will forever be with the Lord and that will be a glorious day.
So while we suffer the pains of this life we set our hope fully on the grace that will be brought to us at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:13). We groan in our earthly bodies as we long for the day when we can exchange them for eternal ones. All the while making it our aim to please God in whatever circumstances we find (2 Corinthians 5:9).
We can live in this tension because we have confidence in God who has promised that Jesus is coming. One day we will be free from the tension of sorrow mixed with joy. One day we will be free to worship at the feet of Jesus in complete fullness of joy.
Come, Lord Jesus.
This is part 5 of a series, Encounters with Jesus: An Advent Devotional