LIFE AND DEATH AT CHRISTMAS - John Piper
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” —John 10:10
As I was about to begin this devotional, I received word that Marion Newstrum had just died. She and her husband Elmer have been part of Bethlehem longer than most of our members have been alive. Marion was 87. They had been married 64 years. When I spoke to Elmer and told him I wanted him to be strong in the Lord and not give up on life, he said, “He has been a true friend.” I pray that all Christians will be able to say at the end of life, “Christ has been a true friend.” Each Advent I mark the anniversary of my mother’s death. She was cut off in her 56th year in a bus accident in Israel. It was December 16, 1974. Those events are incredibly real to me even today. If I allow myself, I can easily come to tears—for example, thinking that my sons never knew her. We buried her the day after Christmas. What a precious Christmas it was! Many of you will feel your loss this Christmas more pointedly than before. Don’t block it out. Let it come. Feel it. What is love for, if not to intensify our affections— both in life and death? But, O, do not be bitter. It is tragically self-destructive to be bitter. Jesus came at Christmas that we might have eternal life. “I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). Elmer and Marion had discussed where they would spend their final years. Elmer said, “Marion and I agreed that our final home would be with the Lord.” Do you feel restless for home? I have family coming home for the holidays. It feels good. I think the bottom line reason for why it feels good is that they and I are destined in the depths of our being for an ultimate Homecoming. All other homecomings are foretastes. And foretastes are good. Unless they become substitutes. O, don’t let all the sweet things of this season become substitutes of the final great, all-satisfying Sweetness. Let every loss and every delight send your hearts a-homing after heaven. Christmas. What is it but this: I came that they might have life. Marion Newstrum, Ruth Piper, and you and I— that we might have Life, now and forever. Make your Now the richer and deeper this Christmas by drinking at the fountain of Forever. It is so near.
Christmas time is an interesting one. We all know about the amazing and wonderful things that are around this time of year. Like Christmas movies, the first big snowfall, seeing decorations everywhere, going to parties, and all things peppermint. We also hear radio stations giving gifts to families in need, see people working hard at finding that one really perfect gift, and communities coming together collecting toys and money. Obviously, there many more things, but you get the idea. When people say how much they like Christmastime, I’m assuming all this is why, and rightfully so. What other time of year do we have carved out time to spend with family and friends?
Unfortunately, there seems to be another side to Christmas. One of stress and sadness. Perhaps being so close to the end of the year warrants reflection, or just the obvious fact that certain people are no longer available to attend get togethers, but Christmas seems to feel like a glaring reminder of our loved ones that have passed away. Even if their passing wasn’t recent, we can still find ourselves upset. Then feeling bad about not being jolly all the time. Yikes. Even “Jesus wept.” (John 11:35) He was upset his friend had passed away. Death is a hard thing to deal with.
There is a time for everything. (Ecclesiastes 3) I encourage anyone that will listen to provide space for those who may find this time of year tough. Try not to tease or get frustrated if someone isn’t having as much fun as you think they should. If we can take a few steps back and remember that real reason we celebrate Christmas, then giving someone some space seems like an easy thing to do.