It’s the Christmas season, a season of wonder, excitement, and hopeful anticipation and for many of us that means spending time with family because as they say, there’s no place like home for Christmas!
Throughout this season churches everywhere will be filled with families who have gathered together to celebrate the birth of Christ.
The lights will be on, the poinsettias arranged, the sweaters will be bright and festive, and the smiles will be wide. People will sit in pews and sing traditional carols, hear the Christmas story, and light candles. Millions on Christmas Eve will rise and sing “Joy to the World.”
But there will also be those wondering, “Where is the joy?” How can I sing “Joy to the World,” when there is none in my own heart? For people that are hurting, struggling, or mourning, this season can feel very long and certainly not joyful.
The bills haven’t been paid, the credit debt is mounting, and work is hard to come by. What’s Christmas morning going to feel like when you can’t afford presents for your children.
A family member or friend is struggling with illness.
Or maybe, your family is spread across the country, or is deployed, or there’s a broken relationship and this year you will spend Christmas without them. Maybe for the first time.
Perhaps a loved one has passed away and Christmas just won’t be the same. You miss their smile. You miss their laughter. When the family gathers for Christmas dinner, there’s going to be an empty chair.
For some of us, this season can feel so very long.
This morning, I don’t offer any easy answers because sometimes there are no answers. But I want you to know that you are not alone. In this place, among this church family, you are loved, and you are surrounded by people who mourn with you, and walk alongside you, and will pray with you.
In community, God gives us the chance to heal and be healed; to feed and be fed; to love and be loved.
Christmas does not mean everything is okay. Christmas did not end the sadness of the pain. Christmas does not end the night, but it gives us hope for the dawn and it offers the promise of peace.
Let’s listen to our text for the second Sunday of Advent, the Sunday of Peace. READ John 14:1-6
When Jesus stepped into creation, he came at a time when there wasn’t an abundance of good news for the common person. Life was hard. Most families existed on meager resources. And many in the Jewish community wondered if God still cared about them.
They knew that God had promised them that a time of peace was coming but it had been 400 years since the last time God spoke. And over the centuries their nation had been subject to a succession of oppressive foreign powers.
But then a young man began to make a stir by saying unusual things about God’s love. And he didn’t spend his time among the high and mighty but instead with the lowly and humble. He hung out with outcasts, sinners, and people on the fringes of society, suggesting that God loved them too!
Amazing reports began to circulate about miraculous healings and feeding large crowds from a few morsels. So, people flocked to this man named Jesus with every kind of problem from leprosy, to lameness, to blindness, to lost minds, and even death.
All that was possible because of what happened in that little village of Bethlehem as Mary gave birth to the Christ child in a stable, among the sheep and the cattle and the manure.
For the whole history of humanity people worshiped gods who were distant, separate, far above or beyond them. But then among this insignificant people called the Jews, something different happened.
God came down to live among the people. He met them face to face. He heard their stories and saw their tears. No longer distant, he came to meet people right where they lived, where they hurt, where they suffered.
During his public ministry Jesus mended broken bodies and broken spirits and he left behind him a wake of joyful people who saw their lives knit back together in an instant.
How often, though, do we realize that Jesus carried on like all of us. He grew up in Nazareth and saw how his family and friends and neighbors struggled with the everyday challenges of life.
Undoubtedly, he saw men injured in farm accidents and knew of women in his village who died in childbirth. He saw people contract illnesses that could not be healed. He witnessed parents weeping over little ones who died and widows grieving the loss of their husband.
He saw people lose their hopes and dreams of a better world.
He understood the personal pain of loss, because at some point, he too experienced the loss of family members and friends.
Grief visits every one of us at some point.
But when the grief we experience is left unaddressed, or ignored, it can tarnish our lives for years. Jesus knew this when he spoke to his disciples on the night before his death.
At supper that evening he astounded the twelve when he rose from the table before the meal was finished, took a basin of water and a towel, then proceeded to wash the feet of each one.
All his words he spoke that night were carefully chosen because he knew what was going to happen the next day. His close friends would see him arrested, beaten, convicted on trumped up charges, and nailed to a cross. In in just a few hours, they would be thrown into grief such as they had never known.
So, after the foot washing, he announced that he was leaving them. The disciples couldn’t imagine worse news; life without Jesus was unthinkable.
So, in the first few verses of John 14 Jesus gave his followers something to know, something to feel, and something to anticipate. He wanted them to know that although there is no place like home, here on earth . . . there’s a better home waiting for them!
All the things we think are so necessary are only temporary . . . even our relationships here are limited.
It’s a message of hope but honestly, we rebel at the thought of loss.
Even after 50 years of marriage we want to continue enjoying the companionship we’ve cherished. We don’t want to lose our parents. We hope our siblings will be around as long as we are. We can’t imagine life without our children or grandchildren – and I can hardly imagine something more gut wrenching and soul-starving than seeing them go before I do.
Yet it happens, and if it does, when it does, Jesus assures us that life is not over, that God has a place for us that is spacious enough to accommodate all his children.
He said his Father’s house has many rooms, and there’s one there for you and all your loved ones, for all those who by faith put their trust in Jesus.
Jesus wanted his disciples to know that there was a place prepared for them beyond this life. He also wanted them to feel down to the depths of their souls that they would never be alone. He promised that he was coming back to get them, so they would be with him forever.
David knew this to be true. In Psalm 23 he wrote, “though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for you are with me”.
And in Psalm 139 he wrote that no matter where he goes, to the highest peak or the depth of the sea, to the far side of the world or the darkest place imaginable, even there, God is with him”.
And so, he will be with you. There may be times when you don’t feel his presence, but he’s still there. If you do feel alone, the answer is to surround yourself with your church family because there in the company of the faithful you can find friendship and support and care.
We still grieve, we still mourn, we experience sadness that goes all the way to the depth of our souls. Yet as Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 4:13, “we do not grieve as those who have no hope”. We do have hope, and it is ours because of the baby born in Bethlehem’s manger.
On Christmas day, God sent his son to dwell among us; he healed the sick, fed the hungry, comforted the mourning, and wept for his friends. He came to usher in the kingdom of God, a kingdom where there will be no more pain and no more tears . . . and calls all people to enter with rejoicing.
So, as we continue our advent journey together this morning, we take time to acknowledge and claim that the pain is real, but we do not linger here.
Know that soon, the light of God will break through. Know that on Christmas, God broke through the chaos. Know that on Christmas, God came so that we may have life abundant and life eternal.
This morning, we light four candles in honor of our loved ones or a situation that feels too painful right now. We light one for our grief, one for our courage, one for our memories, and for our love.
4 READERS LIGHT CANDLES
You are invited to come forward and light one of the votive candles which represents your burdens, griefs, sorrows, all those things that make Christmas difficult for you this year. You make speak the name or the event if you wish to do so. When you have lighted your candle or candles, you may return to your seat, come forward to pray silently, or if you wish someone will pray with you.
We light the Christ candle, remembering that Jesus hears our cries, he knows our hearts, and in the midst of our pain, he offers hope and healing.
Go now into the night knowing that you need not go alone. Go now into the night knowing that the dawn is coming. Go now into the night knowing that love endures forever. Go now into the night knowing that the Christ child will come. Go now, and may the peace of Jesus Christ, the peace that surpasses all understanding, be with you. Amen.