When Christmas Hurts...
I’ve written in earlier Christmas blogs about the many fond memories of Christmas as a little guy growing up in Hawaii. Mom and Dad always made it a memorable day for me and my older brother Scott. I have great memories of playing all day with unwrapped gifts such as “Hot Wheels” matchbox style cars and “Rock-Um Sock-Um Robots” to name a few. As I became an adult, the joy of Christmas continued for me through my kids, and the wife and I enjoyed watching them as they played all day with their presents. Our family also adopted from Dad, aka “Pops,” the custom of providing food buffet style that could be munched on all day and included such delights as boiled shrimp, various types of cold cuts, and many other goodies, both sour and sweet. However, on a number of occasions during the holiday season, our celebrations would be interrupted by my career and also impacted by mourning loved ones who had died and would be missed.
As I began my career in law enforcement, I remember working on Christmas Day answering “calls for service” as a uniformed patrol officer. On Christmas Day, citizens full of Christmas cheer would kindly provide food to eat for the working officers. After the shift ended, I would get with the family later to enjoy Christmas festivities. After transferring over to Vice/Narcotics, I remember attending the office Christmas party when our squad was contacted by a neighboring police department about a suspect who was going to try and murder a person in our city. We left the party and set up surveillance waiting for the would be assailant to arrive. Eventually, the suspect showed up to do the dastardly deed. Our efforts to arrest him ended in a vehicle and foot pursuit. As the suspect jumped out of his moving car, I gave foot pursuit and was eventually able to catch this fleeing criminal with the help of others who came to my aid. I learned later from others who showed up to help that they saw this bobbing white ball and realized that it was attached to a Santa hat atop of my head. I HAD FORGOTTEN TO TAKE THE CAP OFF AT THE PARTY! It made for a good laugh. Another fond memory was when eight burly SWAT team members ended up in a movie theater packed with young kids. It was a great experience watching “Home Alone” with them as it turned us all into kids again.
There were other times when my LEO career would put a crimp in the family’s holiday plans. As I started working for the U.S. Marshals Service, on occasion, I would have to work into the wee hours of the morning chasing various fugitives. This would test the patience of my wife as some of our family holiday vacations would start out with an exhausted dad/husband. In addition to working some of these cases, I would also be called out to respond to various emergencies across the country as part of the U.S.M.S. Critical Incident Response Team. You guessed it, a number of these call outs were during the holiday season. I remember being notified on Christmas Day that I was needed for a response the day after Christmas when the family was supposed to be traveling for a Christmas get together. These callouts frustrated our holiday plans more than once.
In addition to having to work on a number of holidays, as I grew older, several family members died leaving a void at Christmas gatherings (Mom and my older brother, Scott). Just recently, we lost our beloved Mother-In-Law, Peggy Jones, to liver disease. This will be our first Christmas without her and we will greatly miss her. Tears will be shed as the family assembles to celebrate Christmas and remembers these departed loved ones.
Upon reflecting on the two opposite poles of grieving loved ones and celebrating the birth of Jesus this Christmas, I am drawn to the Eleventh chapter of John’s gospel. In this passage, the death and raising of Lazarus from the dead is described. In this chapter, Jesus is notified of the death of his friend, Lazarus. After delaying for a while, Jesus travels to Bethany where he encounters the family and friends of Lazarus mourning his death. In response to Mary questioning the timeliness of His arrival after the death of Lazarus, Jesus plainly states that He is the resurrection and the life (v. 25) . This is quite a radical thing for him to say. Before Jesus, who else was able to make such a claim and then give evidence to back it up (v. 43) ? He further explains that anyone who believes in him will not experience death. In verse 33, we see that Jesus is “deeply moved” by the mourners who are weeping after Lazarus and requests to see the corpse.
In verse 35, the shortest yet arguably one of the most powerful verses in the Bible – just two words – reveals the agape love Jesus has for humanity. He weeps as he contemplates the specter of death that has claimed Lazarus. Jesus is not just shedding a tear or two, but weeping on behalf of his friend. I must say that I have not wept very many times in my life. I did weep recently when my beloved mother-in-law died. I also wept when hearing the news of my brother’s death and that of my mother, Suzanne, eleven years ago. Weeping is an intense emotion that expresses a deep loss of the soul. Jesus was grieving the loss of His friend. It seems to me that when Jesus was weeping, he had more than just the death of Lazarus in mind. Perhaps, he was reflecting on the universal pain of death that all humans have to endure at some point. Maybe he was reflecting about the fall of Adam and its awful impact on all still. Or maybe he was thinking about His impending, cruel death where he would give so much for so many. These two words (“Jesus wept”) truly instruct us about God’s compassionate heart for each one of us today. Even as we mourn our beloved friends and family members who have gone on before us this Christmas, we know that Jesus wept like we did. God incarnate is still personal today and mourns with us. He will also relieve us from the burdens that weigh us down today if we give them to him (Matt. 11:28). When Christmas hurts, we can take solace in knowing that the very God who created the universe humbled himself and entered our world as a human baby. When Christmas hurts, we can know that God not only weeps with us, but also assures us that death is not final for those who love him.