Over the last several years, at some point during Advent, I have found myself all of a sudden to be irritable, snappy, angry, exhausted. It surprises me each year, without fail, and then I sort of wake up and remember what’s going on. Oh yeah. It was right before Christmas, several years ago, that I had one of the worst weeks of my life. My body remembers, even if my conscious mind doesn’t. Oh. There is grief here that I need to make space for. I have been rushing around, afraid that the grief would overwhelm me, telling myself that there wasn’t any time or space for sadness, telling myself that I need to manufacture joy.
And so, having had this realization, I take a deep breath, and I remember, and I acknowledge the grief that is there. This moment, this breath, is always a gift. I am a person, a human, and like all humans, I experience grief and sadness. They will not overwhelm me. In fact, they can exist right beside the joy. The grief and sadness have something to show me and teach me too.
Maybe there is something about this season that is particularly difficult for you. Maybe it brings up an old loss, or a reminder of a disappointment or struggle that seems highlighted in this time of togetherness and tradition. Maybe not. Either way, pausing for a moment to take a breath, to acknowledge and accept whatever emotions and realities are here with you this year- that’s always a gift. It’s a gift to me to have others to share that moment with.
Thank you for being here tonight to share that space. If the experience of grief intermingled with Christmas has taught me anything, it’s that God is present in that moment, in that space. God came to earth to share that space with us, to weep and mourn and rejoice right alongside us. God is here with us tonight. So let us take a deep breath together, a moment of quiet this Christmas.
I have a lot of affection for the author of the Gospel of John, in a lot of ways. Some scholars think that this Gospel was actually written and edited by a community over time, which makes sense to me. They must have been a smart group, one that liked poetry and big ideas, maybe one that bore some resemblance to this group, I don’t know. This is one of the most beautiful pieces of poetry in our tradition. It puts into gorgeous words one of the crucial ideas of our faith- that God came here to dwell with us, as a human.
I wonder, though, if the beauty of the language doesn’t sometimes obscure how radical the thing it is trying to convey is. God- the God of mystery and metaphor and poetry- came into the world, this world, and all that that involves- mess and dirt and confusion and mundane tasks and boredom and pain and grief.
I know it has been at times of grief and sadness that I’ve grasped a piece of that mystery most concretely. Big ideas and poetry and metaphor have their place in grief and healing, for sure. But at least for me, when I’m sad or in pain, I really want someone to bring me something warm, someone to give me a hug, someone to sit next to me. Words don’t help that much, but if I want any words at all, I want the words of someone who has been where I have been before, or who knows me well enough to know what might make me smile or feel comforted. Someone who I know will be present with me through the messiness of grief. Someone who I knew will stay with me- someone I trust enough to know I don’t have to say something impressive or interesting to make them stay.
And so, in this beautiful poem, we hear of a God who was willing to enter that space with us- who came to experience the messiness of being human, including grief and confusion and sadness, even helplessness, as a baby, giving up control to join us fully in it.
That is pure gift. We don’t have to manufacture joy, or be interesting, or perfect- Jesus has already come to join us here. Jesus is with us. Jesus will one day come back to complete the work, and bring us into the fullness of his life and love, where there is no more sorrow or death or pain or grief. We hope for that day. But in this time of long nights, we can also rest, knowing that Jesus is with us now, that Jesus knows grief and sadness too. That Jesus doesn’t need us to be any more than human, because Jesus was fully human too. In the name of Jesus, the Word made flesh, let us be at peace.