Just a couple of weeks ago, we were busy with decorations and lights and gift-buying. We were just beginning to recover from all the turkey we ate over Thanksgiving. And having tasted the joy of time spent with our families, we couldn't wait for the days of Christmas to experience that joy again. Now, instead of rushing around to finish our holiday preparations right before Christmas, we stop. We come together not with hearts filled with joy, but hearts overflowing with grief. We come to remember. We come to support. We come to pour our tears into our cupped hands, the only offering we have.
We come together in times of celebration and in times of desperation. At the beginning of new lives...those being joined in holy matrimony and those entering this world for the first time. And now, as we say goodbye to one of those lives that touched everyone he knew...we gather again as family.
We struggle to understand, but it is in this struggle that we experience our deepest emotions. And the deepest places are an invitation to touch the Holy.
I wonder why it is that those moments of grief and despair feel so much like those same feelings of joy and peace? We sing the hymns of old on our wedding days and again on our last days with the ones we love. How can it be that the same song could cause a heart to bleed the tears on the altar of marriage and at the altar of remembrance? I don’t know for sure why the difference between joy and grief feels as thin as lace, with holes that see through and catch a glimpse of the other side.
But what if that thin line between grief and joy is the holy ground where we most know the innocence of a newborn baby while touching the bright red spilling out from the side of the Christ.
I wonder if these deep places, these gaping holes left in our hearts when our loved ones die, are where we bow down next to the manger and can finally see Jesus and actually understand the phrase "God among us."
Is the reason we ache with joy the same way we anguish with grief simply because they are two sides of the same coin? In the tiny space between them is where we find ourselves fully in the presence of Immanuel, God With Us. It is where we worship like the angels did the very first time, like the wise men did on that night they finally found Jesus in Bethlehem.
So as we crawl desperate to the manger this Christmas season, let us remember these moments when we most feel His presence. Let us treasure these days so that every Christmas that follows aren't ones filled with memories of grief, but ones instead filled with gratefulness, not only for the memory of the one we lost, but for the opportunity we were given in our grief to know more of our Savior.
Let us remember the times when our stomachs hurt with pure laughter, and the times when it was hard to swallow because of the intense sadness rising from our chest into our throats. Let us remember when we felt our hearts tearing apart and when we felt them spilling over with joy.
For those are the times that we get to bow down and touch the skin of the Baby who knew joy and grief. Those are our best opportunities to truly feel God With Us.
That's when we truly understand what it means to worship. And it is all worship.