Grief dominates Christmas for me this year! Sparkling decorations, joyous music, holiday parties, and upbeat festivities just don’t fit where I am.
I was a teenager the last Christmas I celebrated without Linda. That was six decades ago! Even though she was not cognitively aware of the last five Christmases, she was still present.
I could see her! Hear her voice! Hold her hand! Kiss her forehead! Comb her hair! Feed her! Brush her teeth! Sit silently beside her and listen to her breathe.
Now she’s gone! Memories remain, but they are accompanied by sadness for what is no more.
Part of me is missing, too. Adjusting to who I am without her means reorienting my identity, redefining my vocation, re-ordering everyday living.
But there is a mysterious goodness in grieving at Christmastime. It’s hard to explain.
The pensiveness I feel seems to be stripping away the superficiality of the season and confronting me anew with the profundity of the Christmas story:
The infinite God, the source of all life, who brings this magnificent and ever-expanding universe into being, entered human flesh with all its frailty, vulnerability, death, and grieving. Thereby, God has claimed all matter, including human life and death, as bearers of divine presence and love.
The ultimate meaning of our existence is to be extensions of the incarnation, birthing and nurturing God’s presence and love amid our living, grieving, and dying.
Grief is love weeping, evidence of love shared. The longing for presence, yearning for recovered memories and lived expressions are signs that love still lives and grows. Gratitude that love remains amid death and loss gives perspective to the grieving.
But Linda is no longer present for me to tangibly share love. That still hurts deeply!
Christmas speaks to that hurt, too! It doesn’t take it away, but it offers a means of redeeming the absence and hurt: I can enter the loss, grief, and longing of others!
There is comfort in solidarity with those who suffer. Some are in our families. Others are neighbors. They need a gentle embrace, a whisper of comfort, perhaps a gesture of forgiveness, a word of encouragement.
There is also comfort in extending hospitality and advocating on behalf of the vulnerable and wounded who also bear God’s image, presence, and love.
Christmas is about God coming in a helpless baby, born of a young peasant, unmarried and pregnant teenager, made homeless by a cruel governmental decree.
The Christmas stories in the New Testament proclaim God’s radical hospitality and prophetic advocacy on behalf of the powerless, despised, and vulnerable people of the world.
Grief has energy, passion! I pray that the energy and passion of my grieving will be channeled into friendship with and acts of mercy and justice on behalf of those with whom Jesus so closely identified that we meet him in them.
That’s what God wants! And, I think that is how Linda would want me to grieve her absence!
Christmas, after all, is about God entering our grief, redeeming our sorrows, and inviting us to join Emmanuel in “the least of these.”