Each year at Christmas, new memories are made and old ones are relived. As I opened the box of our tree ornaments, memories from over the years spilled out into the room. Remember that trip? Here’s that one from my childhood! Awe look, the year we got married? And look, our first Christmas with a baby! Years and years of memories all hung in one place. And then I pulled out the little wooden sleigh from her…my aunt Kitty.
Kitty was my mom’s older sister who lived a few doors down. My childhood memories are flooded with Aunt Kitty. Our grandparents lived far away and she was a grandmother and an aunt all wrapped into one. She was so jolly and had a belly laugh that made you feel so good and special when you were with her. She gave out king-sized candy bars to hundreds of neighbors on Halloween; she was recklessly generous. And when I say she did Christmas, I mean she DID Christmas!
That’s why I will never forget twelve years ago on Christmas Eve when we got a call from a neighbor saying there was an ambulance at her house. We hung up the landline and my sister and I sped over. The stockings were hung, the gifts were wrapped, the food was made, she had worked so hard preparing a magical Christmas that only Kitty could prepare for her eleven grandchildren. She went to sleep on the couch after a long day of finishing touches, and she never woke up. As soon as we pulled up to her home, we knew. We just knew.
As I sat in Kitty’s funeral next to my younger sister and saw her fingers shake as she held the program…those fingers that had dialed the numbers to Kitty’s landline at least once a week since she was old enough to talk…I looked around at those Christmas trees in the front of the church and just sobbed. Christmas Eve. She was taken from us on Christmas Eve. It just didn’t seem right.
Twelve years have passed, I have gotten married and now have three precious children to soak in the magic of Christmas. They are absolutely adorable and hilarious this time of year. But even as new memories are made, I can’t get through this season without thinking of Kitty and having at least one good cry.
Because I miss her.
Maybe there is someone you miss this time of year too. It’s the happiest time of the year, and I dearly love it, but Christmas also brings us memories of people who are no longer here to share in the season; the family member who isn’t at the dinner table any more, the address in the Christmas card list you have to delete. Death is real. And it hurts. It’s not how it is supposed to be.
And this year as I got out that wooden sleigh, I feel like God was right there with me. And He reassured me that it’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to have a good cry. It’s okay to have these emotions and not feel the need to stuff them down. It’s okay not to be okay with death.
Because He isn’t.
At the tomb of His dear friend, Jesus wept. I know He would have wept with us that day in Kitty’s living room. He felt the sting of grief I know so well, and He too cried. And then He did something about it. He commanded his friend Lazarus to come out of that grave. And shortly after that, He did something even more miraculous. He went to the cross.
He came in all humanity and all power to look death straight in the eye and swallow it so we wouldn’t have to. He loves us so much He came to set us free of the shackles of sin and the sting of death. Because we matter.
We miss our loved ones, but we won’t always have to. “He will remove the cloud of gloom, the shadow of death that hangs over the earth. He will swallow up death forever! The Sovereign Lord will wipe away all tears.” (Isaiah 25:7-8) That hole in our hearts that yearns for things to be made whole again…He came to fill it, and He’s the only One big enough.
My wish list is long and exciting, but I think what we all desire most deeply this time of year is for the death of the people we love, and the brokenness both inside and around us, to be overcome and gone forever. That’s the cry of my heart and I believe that’s what Christmas promises.
Yes, there is death and darkness. But the birth of Jesus introduces us to the life and light that cuts straight through the heart of it, victorious.
“In him (Jesus) was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5)
There is something stronger than death; the love that broke into the universe on Christmas Day. The love that is making all things new.
And sometimes new memories shine light on the old. My children asked today if we could get out our birthday sign for Jesus. I told them not yet, and reminded them they needed to wait until the 25th. John, who is three, started jumping up and down. “Are we going to heaven, mama!? Are we going to get to sing to him in heaven?! Can we go and see him on his birthday, mama, please!? Can we go…”
I listened to his joyful request as his precious words began to cut straight through the heart of such a painful memory…it was the moment I lost it this year. I immediately thought of Kitty and how she went home to be with Jesus on the Eve of His birthday. She was with Him that night. John asked about my emotions, and I reminded him about Kitty. He was thrilled to know that she made it to heaven just in time to sing.
As I rejoiced with John, the words of “Oh Come All Ye Faithful”, my favorite Christmas hymn and one that comforted me greatly in the years after Kitty’s death, played through my mind,
Sing, choirs of angels, Sing in exultation, Sing all ye citizens of heaven above…Glory to God…Now in flesh appearing…
Those of us who miss loved ones at Christmas, we are invited to sing along triumphantly with all of the citizens of heaven, and perhaps with more volume than before,
Oh, come let us adore Him…Christ the Lord!