Christmas: Grief … and joy

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By Larry Short

One of the many incongruities of Christmas is this: We sing “Joy to the World” and celebrate the birth of our Savior. But it is also, for many of us, a time of grief and sorrow … a reminder of painful personal losses.

I lost my dad, a few years back, on December 30. Darlene lost her teenage sister, Laurie, many years ago, a few days before Christmas. Many of you reading this, I know, have experienced similarly difficult losses at this time of year.

When we think of the birth of Christ, we envision angels singing Hallelujah! But what else was happening around that time? Think about Herod — seeking to kill the Messiah, and ordering the massacre of thousands of innocent babies in the process.

The arrival of the wise men, and the gifts that they bore, surely brought joy, we think. Gold and frankincense? No problem. But myrrh? An embalming spice, which releases its fragrance when crushed. If I were Joseph, I think I just might have put that third wise man’s gift right back on his camel, with a quick: “Thanks, but no thanks!”

Now think about the words of Simeon, as recorded in Luke 2, who was moved by the Spirit to prophecy to Mary and Joseph when Jesus was consecrated in the Temple at a tender age:

30 For my eyes have seen your salvation,

31 which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:

32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,

and the glory of your people Israel.”

33 The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

Mary and Joseph must have thought: Okay, Simeon, you should have stopped at “the glory of your people Israel.” Why did you have to go on and say that part about the sword, piercing your own soul? Merry Christmas.

Thus is the human condition: Joy … and sorrow. Life … and death.

Or perhaps I have that in the reverse order. Simeon said “falling … and rising” … because of the birth of our Savior! There’s the grave … and THEN the victory over the grave. The crucifixion … and THEN the resurrection.

It’s Friday … but Sunday’s a comin’!

As my Christmas gift to you, I’d like to leave you with one of my favorite “newer” Christmas songs (not quite a carol yet), which embodies this Christmas conundrum of joy and sorrow: “Joseph’s Lullaby,” by Mercy Me. This YouTube video sets its words against poignant scenes from the movies “The Nativity Story” and “The Passion of the Christ” (difficult to watch … but well illustrative of both the joy and the pain that is wrapped up in this thing we call Christmas).

Merry Christmas!

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How do we pray through this week’s events?

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By Larry Short

This week has been a difficult one for all of us, emotionally speaking, as we have all had to deal with the terrible news of the tragedy striking the Lakewood Police Department, when four of their officers were murdered in cold blood last Sunday morning while sitting at a table in a Forza Coffee Shop in Lakewood, just 20 minutes’ drive from our church.

For some it has probably been harder than others. One of the slain heroes, Mark Renninger, was a resident (with his family) of Puyallup, and my understanding is that his daughters attend a local school here. One of the young men in our college group has done weapons and tactics training with Mark. Some of our families no doubt have children who know his daughters. Another young man in our congregation is an acquaintance of one of the barristas working in the coffee shop.

I’ve been confronted all week with the question, How do we most faithfully deal with a tragedy of this magnitude? The Bible says, “Cast your cares on Him … for He cares for you.” We know that because of His love for us, God wants us to look to Him at difficult times like this. He wants to wrap His arms around us, to provide comfort and perspective and meaning in the face of a tragedy that seems to us so senseless and terrible.

It’s in an effort to do this, to look to the Lord, that we are calling our congregation to prayer this weekend, and especially next Tuesday, the day when the officers’ memorial service is scheduled. If you could fast and pray with us on Tuesday, that would be wonderful, and we believe the Lord will be faithful to help heal our hearts and also do wondrous things in our community as a result.

Here is how your pastors and elders would ask us to pray, specifically:

* Pray for grieving families, friends and loved ones deeply affected by this tragedy. All four officers had spouses and children. It’s during times like these when God has an opportunity to speak most directly to the hearts of people who might otherwise be too busy with the cares of life to notice. Ask that He would reveal himself as the Healer, Hope-Giver and Comforter to anyone wounded by this tragedy.

* Pray similarly for emotional healing and spiritual growth for the barristas and others who witnessed this traumatizing event.

Pray for a spirit of humility and wisdom for all who are dealing with and responding to this event. Pray for the family and friends of the shooter, many of whom themselves were implicated in the event and its attempted cover-up. I was once again starkly reminded this week — during a moment of anger! — that there, but for the grace of God, go I. Thank God for His demonstrated power to turn hatred to love, to forgive sinners and to reconcile the alienated. Pray for the police officers who protect us, that they would be able to put this event into proper perspective and find healing for their own emotions so they can continue to do their jobs most effectively.

And pray for us (as a church). Pray that in the midst of tragedies like these we would be a light to the community around us, that they would see God’s love and redemptive power when they look at us. Pray that God would protect our church from the evils of such a violent and twisted society and culture, but also that when we are personally impacted by this violence, that we would be prepared to respond in manner that honors and glorifies God.

The Elim church facility will be open all day next Tuesday, from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., to provide a place for us to pray together. Consider fasting with us, and please swing by at your convenience to connect with others and with our Savior as we “cast our cares upon Him.”

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