When Christmas is the hardest time
John Benton finds comfort at Christmas for those bereaved
In bereavement two gigantic realities collide. They are very different but very real. They are the realities of love and death.
Bereaved people often say, ‘It doesn’t get any easier’ – and times like Christmas are the worst. Past memories of happy hours are stirred up as we remember how the family used to get together at this time of year. And those happy moments were intimately linked to our love for one another.
Family love is very precious. Often the best moments of our lives are tied up with such love – love for someone who really loves us too. What we share in such relationships is our greatest treasure. If there is a paradise on earth it is found in human love.
But then comes the reality of death, snatching away what we most treasured. The person who was always there for us is suddenly gone. But we love them still!
These two realities collide and we are devastated. The pain is immense and does not go away. We feel robbed. It is so unfair. And so in bereavement there is often an element, not just of profound sadness but also of anger and inner rage.
Where to turn?
Our friends do their best but they are only human. We don’t know where to turn for comfort.
What can secular humanism offer us? Nothing, for it shrinks our tender affection for the one we loved to chemical reactions in our brain. We may celebrate the life of the departed but our love has no more significance than a mouthwash! The aching void remains unfilled.
What can formal religion offer us? Only a remote and timeless God presiding over a cruel universe in which love and death collide and who lifts no finger to help. How can we find any comfort there?
How can we come to terms with the human condition – with this horrific dilemma? For me, only Jesus Christ offers a solution to the painful conundrum of death and bereavement. The central truth of Christmas is of a God who did not stay in heaven but became one of us. The great mystery of Christmas is summed up in the carol which says, ‘Lo, within a manger lies he who built the starry skies’.
Our Creator stepped into his own world at Bethlehem. That’s difficult to understand, of course, but if it is true then God was in Jesus seeking the lost and reconciling the world to himself. This gives us great hope, even in the face of death and bereavement.
Why is that?
First of all it means that God is not aloof but can truly sympathise with us in our need. Living as a man in this suffering world, seeing friends and relatives suffer and die, he knows our struggles. We can turn to such a God. The Bible calls him ‘the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort’ (2 Corinthians 1:3).
But second and even more wonderfully, living as a man among us, Jesus was able to endure and resolve the profound collision between love and death in himself when he died on the cross. Out of his death blossoms eternal life – offered to all who believe in him.
Death exists because we are cut off from God on account of our sins. But in his love for sinners, Jesus died for sins – that we might be reconciled to God and receive eternal life. Here is the answer to death itself.
Speaking to a recently bereaved woman, Jesus was able to say, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die’ (John 11:25-26).
In the child of Christmas we can find consolation in grief, and life out of death.