Reflection for Blue Christmas Service 2020
The Reverend Dr. Lynn P. Ronaldi, Rector
On first hearing those words, “Jesus wept,” we might find ourselves wondering why?
After all, Jesus has just told Martha her brother will rise again. He has just said he is the Resurrection and the Life. He knows he has the power to raise Lazarus! So the question naturally arises in our mind: why did our Lord weep at his grave?
Jesus wept out of spontaneous tenderness: out of the overflow of gentleness, mercy, love and boundless affection the Son of God has “for his own work, the race of man.” As Cardinal Henry Newman expressed it, “Their tears touched him at once, (just) as their miseries had once brought him down from heaven.”
So it was the sound of our sorrow that brought the Son of God to earth! It was the sight of our tears that initiated the Incarnation of Jesus Christ! We are the reason Jesus came, and we are the reason Jesus weeps: God feels our pain, comes alongside us, and suffers with us!
Advent is all about the Incarnation: waiting for God to come dwell among us in every way – physically, spiritually – and emotionally. Jesus doesn’t come to stand over us; he comes into our darkness to be with us right where we are, feeling what we feel.
In the first paragraph of John’s Gospel, we receive a key to the Incarnation. We see why Jesus weeps and yet knows that all will be well: “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Hear that again: darkness does not win. Light overcomes, every time.
If we truly believe that the Son of God is the healing light that comes into our darkness; if we believe God comes as a vulnerable human who feels every emotion, then this truth follows:
If Jesus weeps, so must we.
That said, if we’re honest, we don’t always find it easy to cry. To allow ourselves to shed tears, or be sad or angry or discouraged. Unconsciously we may even be thinking that, if we just avoid pain, we won’t have to feel it.
This year, we’ve found it nearly impossible to avoid pain. The world is experiencing corporate grief –the entire world is grieving the loss of life as we knew it. We’re not where we used to be – and we are anxious about where we will be.
In the meantime, we feel stuck in a dark place. In addition to global loss, we are personally experiencing all other kinds of loss: work, school or church routine; relationships; loss of freedom, income, health or even life. On top of it all, it’s Christmas, and in many cases we can’t be with family or friends. We wonder when the light is going to dawn!
Perhaps now, in this in-between time, we might begin to find healing. This is the essence of Advent: dwelling “in the meantime,” between Christ’s first and second comings. Waiting for the light. Praying, Come Lord Jesus! Come into our darkness and give us hope again!
Most of us have lost something or someone precious. In addition to death, there are countless other losses we may not recognize as something to mourn. We need to experience the wilderness of grief, notice the gift of love in it, and weep. Because un-named losses layer on top of other losses. Avoided grief becomes a crushing burden, an elephant on our chest.
In one way or another, haven’t you tried to run away from grief? Avoided feeling pain? Or maybe you’ve felt uncomfortable around others’ anguish, and turned away from theirs?
I believe the first and greatest hurdle we face is learning to be compassionate with ourselves. We get frustrated with ourselves for not feeling holy this Christmas. For not getting over it. We wonder why we lash out in bursts of anger at loved ones. Sometimes we might be looking at lights, listening to music, being around people, and yet feeling the most lonely we’ve ever felt.
And all of those emotions are OK! There is no one right way or length of time, to grieve!
Here’s the good news: we don’t have to make ourselves feel peaceful or joyful this season! We do not have to force the light! God has taken care of that. In the meantime, we can be kind to ourselves. Notice our emotions, name our feelings of loss, anger or fear. Spend time with God in heartfelt prayer, even writing and journaling real feelings. Openly share how you’re feeling with someone you trust and know will just plain listen – not judge or offer advice. And then, wait for it: with hearts open to feel our pain, the balm of Gilead can heal and transform it.
Tonight, let’s close our eyes for a moment. Let’s sit still in God’s silence, and dwell on a few images from our readings:
First, imagine Jesus weeping with friends. Picture the face of someone you love who has died. Imagine that person weeping with you. Feeling your sorrow. Longing for you to know there is light. That they’re now face to face with that light! And that this light is still coming. Reassuring you that something new is happening. Allowing you to weep, even as you wait with hope to heal and to see them once again.
Second, in Psalm 139, David gives us the beautiful image of a maternal, loving God. Imagine this God who knows you, her child, since before you were born. Knows every hair on your head, every thought on your heart before it ever reaches your lips. Who adores you, no matter what. A God who chases you to the ends of the earth or the depths of the sea, like a mother sheep searches for her lambs. There’s nowhere you can go to hide yourself or your grief from God.
Third, Isaiah offers us the image of a heavenly parent who deeply feels our pain and longs to comfort us in our exile and grief. Who longs to comfort us. To reassure us that the darkness is temporary. Listen again to God’s words spoken to Israel, to an entire nation in exile: “Comfort, comfort my people!” and “ A voice cries out, Prepare the way for the Lord.” Remember that God comes into our wilderness and bring light into our darkness.
As you go tonight, make space for your pain. Practice your own “spirituality of the meantime.” Choose a regular place and a routine time in which you meditate on some devotion or passage of Scripture. Journal your feelings and prayers.
And for heaven’s sake, weep if you feel like it! It has been said that tears are the language of God! Always remember, that…
If Jesus weeps, so must we! Amen.