Today I’m taking a funeral. Two days before Christmas. Some would say that’s not the best timing. But the fact is that Neville has died and it’s important that family and friends gather and give thanks for his life. That’s true whether it’s Christmas or not!
Funerals are important. Not always easy, but important. There’s always some sadness as people mourn the loss of a loved one, and sometimes, depending on the circumstances, the grief can feel immense. But a funeral should also include much thanksgiving for the life that has passed. And if the person is a Christ-follower who knows where they’re going, then the funeral usually has added seasoning with the strong hope of heaven, turning it from something potentially rather bland into an occasion of real flavour!
Over the years I’ve met people who can never properly celebrate Christmas because a loved-one died around this time of year. They feel they can’t be properly festive because of their loss. Whilst that’s understandable, as the absence of loved-ones can feel amplified at Christmas, the truth is that Christ was not just born into a world of sunshine and smiles. The context of his first Advent was a world of death, tears and mourning – as well as laughter, joy and happiness. That’s the world into which Christ came. That’s the world Christ wants to transform. That’s the world in which we’re called to be festive.
Festivity is one of the values of The Belfrey. For me, it’s a lovely and important value, as it’s about appropriate celebration in the midst of real life. So we can be festive at both a wedding and a funeral. At a children’s nativity and a post-funeral wake. Laughter and tears are all part of being festive, as is recalling memories and being thankful.
So let’s avoid superficial celebration this Christmas. At the first Advent there was death: the death of the innocent children in Bethlehem, and Simeon was very clear that having met the Christ-child he could now die in peace. And there was life: God’s Spirit was bringing to birth all sorts of new things in people’s lives, John the Baptist was born and of course there was the birth of Jesus himself. Death and life were both part of that first Advent and Christmas.
As we celebrate Christmas twenty-one centuries later, we do so in a very similar world. It’s a world where the Syrian crisis rages on even as we eat our turkey and share presents. In such a world, we are festive. Because God has not left us alone. Christ has come to us. We have wonderful news. We have ‘tidings of comfort and joy’.
Who can you pray for today who needs to know not only the joy of the season, but also God’s comfort? Can you encourage them with a telephone call, a text-message, a visit, a note or even some flowers?