When Josiah and I were just into our second year of marriage, we discovered that we were pregnant. Just after we entered into the second trimester, we lost that baby. I was so grieved. It was spring, so when my mother came, we went out front of the house (we were renting the parsonage from our church) and we planted begonias. These flowers became the symbol of my grief. It became very important to me to keep them alive, because their very existence represented life. At a time when I felt like I had failed life, I needed to try to attend to life. Anyway that I could, so I planted flowers. When fall came, I dug them up and brought them in. They symbolized my grief and my hope.
My dad has a green thumb. He just recently got rid of many of his large plants. But he had a full size grapefruit tree that he had grown from his breakfast in the 1970’s. He had a fig tree, a rubber tree, giant mother-in-law’s tongues, these literally came from his mother-in-law’s home. They were started by my mother’s great aunt. Each of these plants was like a family member. They were part of our family. My dad remember when he planted them and all of the ups and downs of moving them in and out, the different times they got plant diseases or a cat knocked something over. There was something important about the life that they represented.
There was one that just looked like a big bush. It was actually a poinsettia that he grew into a giant bush after Christmas one year.
This time of year, the holidays, are perhaps the most beautiful and so often the most difficult for so many. I just want to take a moment to really absorb the challenge of Christmas. We have the perfect illustration here… our poinsettias. Most of them are donated in memory of someone who is deeply missed this time of year. Yet, they come together to help us celebrate the beauty of this season. They symbolize both our grief and our hope.
Christmas is a time when we often get sentimental. The traditions and focus on family time make us miss those that we are not able to celebrate with in person. There is all kinds of grief that sneaks into this time of year. It can come when we get out decorations, it can come when we are gathering with family, it can come when we worship in church. And often, we feel guilty for feeling down or try to bury the grief. But today, I want to offer that the hope of Christmas was always tempered with grief. The real story of Jesus began with grief.
Our sermon series this Advent is Conversations that Matter. We will be looking at the Christmas story with fresh eyes and hopefully being challenged by it as we celebrate Christmas today. It is meant to challenge and inspire conversations that will go out with you into your day and week.
Today’s scripture is perhaps one of the most overlooked parts of the Christmas story. There was a prophesy before Jesus was born that a king was coming to lead the Jews, to reclaim their rightful inheritance. The wise men, the magi, had been studying the prophesy and studying the stars. The had been studying the stars when the Christmas star appeared. They went on a journey for several days, maybe even weeks to find Jesus.
Herod heard that they were asking about the prophecy and the star. Of course Herod was worried, he was threatened. He didn’t want to lose his position or power. Power makes people do crazy things. Herod asked the wise men to find the baby and then return so he could worship him. The wise men, of course, saw through his plan and did not return to Herod.
After they had presented gifts to Jesus and left, Jospeh was alerted in a dream to take Jesus into Egypt.
Herod was so angry that he had been tricked by the wise men, that he ordered all boys two and under be killed.
I want you to sit with that for a minute.
When Jesus came into the world, the entire community was filled with hope and anticipation. The shepherds had started to spread the news. The wise men had been asking about the prophecy. Creation itself was full of hope.
Yet, on the heels of the birth of Jesus, on the heels of hope came tragedy. Every new mother in the region, every family would have been filled with tremendous grief at this very moment of eternal hope.
Christmas was always connected to grief.
And if Christmas was always connected with grief, what do we do with that grief.
I want to offer that the grief is what actually connects us to the hope.
If the world was already perfect. If there was never death, never tragedy, never disease, never evil, Jesus would not have been necessary. Jesus was born, incarnation happened because of the grief. Christmas is a response to the grief.
All hope is wrapped up in the birth of one baby that was so much more than a baby. God entrusted people, a young couple, in a troubled world, with the biggest gift, his plan, his son, himself. In the birth of this one baby we have the answer to the questions to follow and the questions before.
In Jesus we have the hope of the world, salvation. Remember the words of the angel… “I bring you good news of great joy, for today a savior is born.”
Christmas was always connected to grief because Christmas is the response to the grief.
In today’s world there is a lot of grief.
We experience personal grief. That’s what these poinsettias are about, grief and hope.
In our nation we are experience deep grief around the issue of understanding and racial relations. How deep are these wounds.
In our world we experience the grief of war and poverty. Imagine the depth of pain for those Christians in Iraq and Syria who escaped Isis, as they reflect on Christmas this year.
Grief is part of the human experience. And tragedy is not new with this generation or our parents generation. Christmas has always been connected with grief, because Christmas is actually the response to our grief.
It was never God’s plan that we would hurt and suffer. It was never in God’s plan that we would ever grieve.
Hearing our cries, Jesus came to bring us hope of a time, a life without grief. Where humanity failed to protect life, in Jesus, God is creating, no fighting for life.
God never asks us not to grieve. It’s okay, in fact, it’s natural to grieve this time of year. But in Jesus, we have hope for a life without grief.
I want to pause for a moment and acknowledge our grief. We may experience grief for a loved one who has gone ahead to be with Jesus or for a loved one who is simply not here. We may experience grief for the heartache of others. We may experience grief for the heartache of those who are in the midst of suffering and tragedy in our nation or world.
I want to pause and acknowledge our grief. I am going to lead us in a prayer, and I will invite you to share a word, a brief sentence to acknowledge your grief out loud. After a time of sharing, we will give thanks to God for the hope that comes in Christmas.
(Pray and invite others to share their grief.)
Christmas was always connected to grief, because Christmas is the response to grief. It is the hope of the world, hope for a world to come, hope for the possibility of peace on earth and good will to all men and women, young and old.
Today’s challenge is to continue this conversation… If Christmas is the response to grief, should that impact how we celebrate Christmas?
We also know that the Christmas story does not end with a baby, but the real significance of the Christmas story is connected to Christ’s death. Born the son of God, and died the son of Man, only to rise again and bring salvation.
In a few moments we are going to pass the elements of the cup and the bread. We will partake together in our pews. The Lord’s Supper is for all who would accept the grief of humanity and then proclaim the hope of Jesus. Christmas was always connected to grief, because Christmas is the response to the grief. Let us proclaim our hope in Jesus together.
Ushers come forward please.
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