Death and Christmas…

I have had a long past month. I’ve been on the run literally traveling all over the world. I’ve spent 7 days at Disney World and 10 days in India alongside the rat race of Christmas gatherings and selling my home. The amount of time I’ve spent away has served as a great opportunity to think, read, enjoy my family, and miss my family, but it has also prevented Christmas cleanup.

Yesterday was deemed Christmas cleanup. I threw the tree out by the road and yanked down the lights from the roof. Lastly, I deflated the giant, hideous, glowing snowman and stuffed him in his box. The problem with all this was my oldest son Tucker. Tuck is three and was given the snowman by his Mimi. Would I have bought this snowman for Tuck? What do you think?

Nevertheless, Mimi gave the snowman to Tuck and he loves it. Hence unplugging the snowman and stuffing him in the box for another year was dramatic. As the sun set and the cold of night settled in I hastily stuffed the giant inflatable snowman into his box while my three year old screamed and cried “No, just leave him out for a little bit!” I assuredly reminded my son that Snowman had to go in his box, that next Christmas we would put him back out, and that we could plug him up every morning just as we had done this Christmas season. At that moment in the cold air of the night it hit me! My day had consisted of sleeping off jet lag, a few phone calls, and lastly sitting, with a grieving family as they awaited the passing of their dear and precious matriarch.

The tears, the snowman, the box, the family…. It all made sense; death was temporary or at least temporary for some. Death for some is literally being put in a box to be opened on the next Advent.

The family that I sat with yesterday was experiencing the emotions and weight of grief and death. In the moment, grief and death are incredibly heavy and should not be belittled or neglected. Research tells us that grief is healthy, necessary, and lasts a life time. Grief may dull and become tolerable, but grief never totally recedes. Grief hangs on because love hangs on.

Fortunately for those in Christ, grief is swallowed up by the cross of Christ. The Bible reveals that death is ultimately the problem of sin. Sin is any attitude, action, or thought contrary to the character of God, and death is one of the consequences of sin. The fact that all have sinned and all face death is a bleak picture for all people, but for those who trust Christ for the forgiveness of sin the weight of death becomes something all together different. Death actually becomes grace. Paul says it this way, “Death is swallowed up in victory.” This same passage later tells us that the victory over death is only found in Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection.(1 Corinthians 15) I like that he uses swallowed up! Swallowed up is more than just taken away, swallowed up reveals total consumption. Like an ocean swallows up a pair of sunglasses. As a wave crashing to knock the sunglasses from your face and then instantly sweeping them out to sea, so the return of Christ will swallow up death. Death which is evil and painful is used for good and grows our affections for something greater… Christ.

My understanding of death and grief is limited, but growing. The latest author that I have read on the subject of death was a man who was martyred at age 39 by Nazis weeks before Hitler killed himself. His name was Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I conclude my muse with Bonhoeffer’s perspective on death for a Christian. I hope that your faith rests on Christ and His Resurrection.

“Whether we are young or old makes no difference. What are twenty or thirty or fifty years in the sight of God? And which of us knows how near he or she may already be to the goal? That life only really begins when it ends here on earth, that all that is here is only the prologue before the curtain goes up – that is for young and old alike to think about. Why are we so afraid when we think about death? … Death is only dreadful for those who live in dread and fear of it. Death is not wild and terrible, if only we can be still and hold fast to God’s Word. Death is not bitter, if we have not become bitter ourselves. Death is grace, the greatest gift of grace that God gives to people who believe in Him. Death is mild, death is sweet and gentle; it beckons to us with heavenly power, if only we realize that it is the gateway to our homeland, the tabernacle of joy, the everlasting kingdom of peace.

How do we know that dying is so dreadful? Who knows whether, in our human fear and anguish we are only shivering and shuddering at the most glorious, heavenly, blessed event in the world?

Death is hell and night and cold, if it is not transformed by our faith. But that is just what is so marvelous, that we can transform death.”

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