In this third week of Advent we are reminded of the joy that comes with understanding the significance of Jesus’ birth. It is with a fair bit of disorientation, however, that I approach this meditation as the week has issued circumstances that are far from joyful: An Aunt who is close to death; a beautiful, young woman who grew under our youth ministry, now 24, diagnosed with breast cancer; a young mother-pastor in our denomination gave birth to a second child last week, and due to complications has left this world for Another.
How does one meet joy amid such grief? How does a 7-year-old boy appreciate the coming celebration and welcome a sweet baby sister upon hearing that his mother will no longer be there? My brothers who were 3, 4, and 9, and myself 11 when our father died have some experience in wrestling with this. And, while each person will deal with and measure grief in unique ways, it seems joy can only come out of some miracle that is hope. And then these weeks of anticipating Christ’s birth begin to make sense, because out of that hope that by Jesus—through whom all things were made and by whom everything is held together—we can be held together. And, in that sure embrace, and only there, really, is some sense of peace—a peace that is well beyond comprehension. That peace issued in the assurance that ultimately Christ has conquered death and that the only way to perceive this is to acknowledge the starting point originates outside space-time (remember the amplituhedron?)
Perhaps, then, it is possible to recognize a current of joy that life is much more than life. To live is to perceive and believe (hope) that fullness of life extends farther than that which we notice with our five senses. To live is to rest (peace) in the assurance of the One who exists outside space-time, while with us—Emmanuel. To live is to move through the grief while in it, with this One, and celebrate those who have gone before us, those who are with us, and the ones we have not yet been blessed to know. Still, George Herbert expresses far more eloquently the reality of God’s presence in grief in his, Affliction, part 3 (thanks, Mom, for sharing this with me!):
MY heart did heave, and there came forth, O God! By that I knew that thou wast in the grief, To guide and govern it to my relief, Making a scepter of the rod: Hadst thou not had thy part, Sure the unruly sigh had broke my heart. But since thy breath gave me both life and shape, Thou knowst my tallies; and when there’s assign’d So much breath to a sigh, what’s then behinde? Or if some yeares with it escape, The sigh then onely is A gale to bring me sooner to my blisse.Thy life on earth was grief, and thou art still Constant unto it, making it to be A point of honour, now to grieve in me, And in thy members suffer ill. They who lament one crosse, Thou dying dayly, praise thee to thy losse.