We read in the ancient Scriptures these words of wisdom, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to tear and a time to mend, and a time to be silent and a time to speak” (Ecc. 3:1-7, adapted). The words of Ecclesiastes speak of seasons of opposites: birth and death, weeping and laughing, mourning and dancing, tearing and mending, silence and speaking. We are all here today because a season of opposites has come upon us. We are here because a season to grieve the death of loved ones is present in the same season in which we celebrate the birth of the Son of God, our eternal hope. It can be a trying season. We feel the weariness of life because of grief and may even wonder how anyone around us can rejoice. And yet we know that we cannot complete our grieving unless we can also celebrate the birth of Jesus. Grief can cover our sense of future, promise, and joy which are in their very nature are essence of why we celebrate a birth and the very source of our healing from grief.
As I thought about this season of opposites, my mind turned to find a way to see it, feel it, sense it, smell it, and taste it. My thoughts turned to experience the seasons of grief and celebration through the physical season we are in which we call winter. The winter season is mostly distinguished by the coming of snow. When the winter snows come the landscape around us is covered in a thick blanket of white. Pathways that we once walked easily have disappeared. Under the white snow, shrubs and plantings that were once so distinctive blend together. Shapes and contours of life that were once so clear and now blend under the weight of the snow into dull curves.
Grief is very much like a blanket of snow. Grief covers us, every part of us. The pathways of life, the things we once did with easy and without thought, are now difficult to see and even hard to walk. The distinctive shapes of our life’s dreams and plans have been covered over. We cannot seem them. It is hard to know where to begin again. It is hard to know even if our long-held plans will once again emerge from under the snows of grief.
Yet in the season of winter snow, just as in our season of grief, we are compelled to venture forward into it, whether we want to or not. Friends encourage us to dress for it snows of grief, assuring us if we just spend enough time in it, the grief will pass away. Hesitantly, reluctantly, we step from the warm and familiar of our past into the grief of our present and doubtful future. As we do, we quickly discover the snow of grief is much deeper than we thought it would be. The coldness of grief is much more biting than we imagined. The wintery wind of grief much more penetrating than we expected. We begin to believe our friends are mistaken. For the longer we spend in grief, the more difficult it seems that our experience becomes.
Slowly though we are compelled to move forward into that snow of grief. We begin searching for the pathways of life we once knew so well. We find them, we think, but they do not feel the same because someone who walked those paths with us is not there. Our footing even over familiar terrain does not feel the same. We look for reassurances that we are doing this right but we can only see the footprints of where we have been. There are no footprints to follow ahead of us. As we step forward, it seems we sometimes land on spot that is firm and at other times we place our foot in a hole covered by the wintery snow of grief.
Our grief walk is tiring. Around us it is very quiet. The snow has silenced many things and it muffles the voice of the one which wish most to here. There are, however, two sounds that we have become very aware of. One is our own breathing. It seems louder somehow, more labored. The second sound it that of the never-ending voice in our heads saying to us, “Why? Why did this happen? God, are you there? I should have…I could have…” and the voice repeats beginning again with Why?”
We are also more aware of others in the distance making their way through the same snow grief. We think they are having an easier time. They seem to be able to get further along and are moving faster. We feel like we are walking and stumbling along they are skiing. We catch a look or comment from a friend or family member wondering perhaps when after all this time we are not skiing along as well.
We are tired and almost convinced it would be all right to lay down rather than press on. And yet, something within us says there is more to do. Robert Frost put it this way, “I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep. And miles to go before I sleep.”
This is the experience of grief expressed through the imagery of the winter snows. Yet amid this scene, there is one very important thing going on that has escaped our immediate attention. No matter how much it may be snowing or how thick the clouds may be that surround us, the sun still shines just as brightly as it did before the clouds brought the snow. We may not see the sun, we may not feel the sun, and though it may seem dark, we should not conclude the sun is not there. The sun remains our constant companion even if feeling distant. Our experience tells us that the sun is more powerful than the thickest cloud, the coldest wind, or the deepest snow. The sun always prevails over the darkness. It is the sun that melts away the snows and will expose the land to be greened again. It is the sun that frees the waters of snow-covered frozen lakes. It is the sun that restores the definition to muted shapes around us.
In a similar manner, grief can overshadow our view of God. We may not see God’s hand at work in our life when we grieve. We may not feel God’s presence in our season of grief but would should not therefore conclude God is not here. To make sure the world knew God was always there, God gave us the opposite season of grief. He gave us life in Jesus. For in Jesus, “there is life, and that life is a light for the people of the world. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not defeated it.” As the sun overtakes the winter snow, so shall God overtake our grief. He did so by sending His son, Jesus, a baby, into the world that through his coming despair would melt giving way to hope.
And so we come here today, seeking to acknowledge even though this is season of grief, it is also time to celebrate the season of hope. God sent Jesus to bring hope to the living. God sent Jesus to bring hope to us.
The apostle Paul, a man familiar with grief, wrote, “Do not be moved from the hope held out in the Gospel.” The hope of the Gospel is this: God sent Jesus to let each of us know that God sees us, hears us, and that God wants us to see and hear him. Hope.
The hope of the Gospel, the hope of Christmas, is this: Jesus lived the human life like we are living, complete with moments of great joy and tears, times of companionship and aloneness, so Jesus knows our highs and lows. Yet Jesus in living did what we are not able to do, he did not sin. Because of his living as we did and his sinless nature he is uniquely able to speak to God for us and about God to us. Hope.
The hope of Christmas is this: Jesus died for you and for me and in doing so can give us his sinless image before God. Hope.
The hope of Christmas is this: Jesus arose from the dead into a new life. Because he did, we can live a new life in him now and eternally. Hope.
The hope of Christmas is this: God will wipe every tear from our eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. Hope.
The hope of Christmas is this: You shall one day celebrate Christmas again with our loved ones who have died.
You are here today because God sees you and hears you and he moved you to receive the hope of Jesus in this your season of grief. Let us pray.