Today after Bible study class I will go to the Methodist Church where I will help with the funeral of a young man. His family have a connection to our parish and are sometimes attendees here as well. Their son, a thirty three year old, vibrantly healthy man, came down with a bad cold while on the road (he works for the railroad). the initial diagnosis was pleurisy but as he came home and felt worse and worse he went to the emergency room. I am told he walked in, but within hours he was in dire straights. Numerous theories were bandied about and in the end medical science and prayer did not prevail, at least it did not keep him alive here.
Much of my time was spent with family, especially his parents. We all know that children are "supposed to bury their parents" so there is something unnatural about the reverse. While I was sadly aware that the healing power of Jesus was not manifested, on my way to the hospital after receiving the call that he had passed, I sort of wrestled with the question what went wrong. However, upon encountering his parents I was immediately aware that healing was poured out upon them in a remarkable way. The mystery of life an death, love and loss all covered by the presence of the invisible God. I was deeply aware of His power at work among us.
Later that day I got another call. A former parishioner died in his home in Birmingham. The family has a funeral there today and I will do the graveside tomorrow afternoon. The son made it clear that he wanted me to go to my child's Christmas program, so they made their schedule to fit mine. A serious act of graciousness would you not agree? So tomorrow will be a time of celebration of life, a two year old special needs class singing its Christmas songs, and a family putting their father to rest. My guess is he will be singing with his wife and son at the Christmas program in the heavenly realm.
Friday marks the twentieth anniversary of my mom's heart attack. We had had our family Christmas with her the day before, but she felt poorly and left the presents in her trunk. As she walked through the parking lot that morning she fell to the ground. Two lawyers, dressed in their finery, walked past her as she lay there. (Sort of like the good samaritan story) An African American man, a humble workman, came to her assistance and called an ambulance. Mom was aggressively anti-racist and took delight in pointing out what had happened in the days ahead. She hovered at death's door, returned to us, and then spent the better part of three months bouncing between consciousness and semi-coma. Although she waited until March 20 to die, she is always, in mind mind, a Christmas death. I recall the feelings that Christmas might after spending the day with her at the hospital.
When we were kids my mom always made us sing "The Little Drummer Boy." She was convinced we were so good we could have been on Ed Sullivan. We all knew she was being a mom, but perhaps secretly we thought she might be right. This past Sunday, my son, who was born several years after she died, played his ukelele and sang that song. He had no idea what it meant to me, even when I told him. It was really touching. A pleasant connection with my ancient past and a present day reminder of how God weaves together different times, spaces, and peoples. It will be one of this Christmas' happier moments.
My dad's father also died at Christmas time, December 25, 1974. We were not close to him and had only seen him rarely as children. At the time he died it had been years since I saw him. I was a high school Senior busy with my life. I was sad for my dad, sadder that the death of my grandfather seemed to make little impact on me. It is how life goes!
Holidays are difficult times for many. Divorces make family gatherings a painful time of balancing schedules. Too many deaths and losses this time of year. Many people are lonely and alone. It is not all good cheer and jolly holly happy days. But the story is not about Santa, it is about a God who seeks to save lost people. People lost to sin, death, sadness and in need of life and reconciliation. It is a message we all need to hear. It is a message we all need to share. Jesus was born for us and our salvation. That is hope.