Grief At Christmas
Christmas can be a challenging time of year for those who are grieving. Whether you are mourning the loss of a loved one, grieving a broken relationship, experiencing poor health or suffering other kinds of hurt–Christmas can be a painful reminder of loss. In this post about Grief At Christmas, Pastor Chris, Pastor of Soul Care, encourages us to consider the example of Jesus and the grief he endured.
Grief at Christmas
What is it about the Christmas season that seems to ratchet up the intensity level of our grief? Perhaps this time of year evokes sentimental thoughts about past holidays that painfully remind us that this year is different. Or maybe culture influences us to view it as a time of peace and goodwill, but our grief says the opposite. We may even tell ourselves that Christmas must be joyful. We feel the pressure to perform for our friends and families, only to realize that our empty smiles are not very convincing.
Regardless of the reasons, grief is particularly painful this time of year. This Christmas season marks one year since my family lost someone very close to us. My wife is grieving. My children are grieving. I am grieving. As I write this, the happy memories and the anguishing loss are doing emotional somersaults over each other deep within my soul.
Maybe you know what I mean. Perhaps you are grieving the loss of a loved one as well, or the loss of a relationship, or even the loss of physical or mental health. Maybe you are grieving because of your struggle with infertility, or you’re experiencing the anguish of a miscarriage. Perhaps you are grieving because your child has walked away from the Lord, leaving you to wonder what you did wrong. Grieving is hard, and Christmas can make it harder. Fortunately, we are not alone. Grieving has been around for a very long time.
Biblical Examples Of Grief
The Bible provides many stories of grieving by God’s people. Adam and Eve lost their son, who was murdered by their other son. Abraham grieved the death of his beautiful Sarah, while Isaac mourned the loss of his mom. Hannah was in anguish over her infertility. David experienced the extreme pain of losing his son in infancy. Naomi lost her husband…then her only two sons, leaving her in bitter sadness. Job lost his family, wealth and health. Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, did fifty years of faithful ministry in Israel with almost no fruit to show for it. Hosea’s wife committed adultery and abandoned him for another man. Even God himself grieved over the wickedness of humanity.
The stories could go on. However, the greatest display of grief in all of redemptive history is seen in the life of Jesus. In Isaiah 53, the prophet said that a suffering savior would come. Despised and rejected by men, this savior would be a man of sorrows and intimately familiar with pain. He would also carry our grief and sorrows. Then he would take these burdens to the cross, get pierced for our sins and many would be made righteous out of the anguish of his soul. That’s a lot of grief!
One place we see this grief manifested is in the Garden of Gethsemane. Just hours before he was arrested, Jesus told his disciples that his soul was very sorrowful, even to death (Matthew 26:37). He was grieving so terribly that he felt as though he was about to die, and even his sweat fell like drops of blood (Luke 22:44). Face down before God the Father, he prayed for relief from the agony. He prayed this once, twice, three times. In the end, however, he faithfully yielded to the will of the Father and endured the pain, sorrow and anguish.
Another place we can see Jesus grieve is on the cross. He had been physically tortured beyond recognition, abandoned by his friends and was carrying the full weight of our pain, grief and sins. After hours of this agony, he cried out loudly from the cross, asking why God had forsaken him (Matthew 27:45–46). This was the final stage of his anguish: God had forsaken his Son. Jesus was alone. The cross is the climax of all pain and sorrow. It is where the full measure of grief was poured out.
Help In Our Grief
So, how does the example of Jesus help us grieve this Christmas? I can think of at least five ways.
First, Jesus’ life tells us it is normal to grieve. It is alright to cry tears of sadness before the Lord. Someone recently wrote that a lament is a prayer in pain that leads to trust. So, we can fall on our faces in prayer and tell God how much pain we are in.
Second, Jesus understands our grief. He knows it intimately because he grieved and was a man of sorrows. As we struggle with whether God understands, we can look to Jesus’ perfect example of grief and know the answer is yes.
Third, we are not alone in our grief. Jesus was forsaken and alone so that we never would be. He is near, even if our pain clouds our ability to feel God’s presence.
Fourth, we can trust God with our grief. He knew the only possible way for us to have eternal hope is through the cross. Because Jesus bore our pain, grief and sin, and because he was forsaken, we have the hope of relationship with God now and forever. God has a divine purpose for our grief. We need to only look at what happened on the cross to be reminded of it.
Fifth, joy breaks through our grief. It is compelling that Jesus’ life of earthly sorrow is bookended by joy. When he was born in the manger, there was much joyful worship of God in heaven and on earth. Our savior had arrived! And when Jesus rose from the grave, there was much joyful worship of God in heaven and on earth. This same joyful worship continues today and will echo throughout eternity. Because of the eternal happiness that was to come, Jesus endured the cross (Hebrews 12:2). By virtue of our union with Jesus, his joy becomes our pleasure, and it will go on forever.
So, this Christmas season, let’s grieve together. My family and I will certainly be grieving, and you should, too. But let us also gaze together at the manger, remember Jesus’ grief as our suffering savior and rest in the invincible joy that he won at the cross. The temporary anguish we feel today will lead to eternal pleasure with Jesus tomorrow (Revelation 21:3–7).