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Home for Christmas

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A meditation on loss and hope 

Eight-and-a-half years ago, our family was dealt the heaviest of blows, one that still weighs on our hearts. Our beloved daughter Heather left this world along with her unborn daughter. A simple strep infection attacked her blood and took her life in the space of 12 hours.

Since her death, our shredded and battered hearts have been in continuing pain. To those who expect us to have recovered from our loss by now, I freely confess that though we have learned to live with the pain – to “manage it” in some way – it has by no means gone away. As we know from others who walk this same sorrowful path, the pain will always be with us.

The fact is that Heather’s death tore a gaping hole in our hearts. It was then and continues to be the most painful experience of our lives. “You recover from a broken leg,” Jerry Sittser writes in A Grace Disguised; “you don’t recover from an amputation.” As anyone who has suffered the death of a loved one – particularly a child – knows: this is an amputation!

At times, for Heather’s mom and me, the pain has been almost unbearable. Each day is hard, with anniversaries and other significant days among the hardest. Christmas Day continues to be one of those. (The last time we saw her was Christmas a few months before she was so suddenly snatched away from us.)

And yet, ironically, it’s precisely because of Christmas that we’re able to bear the pain at all. We have hope and confidence in the midst of our unspeakable grief because of that pivotal event in history when Jesus, the Christ, the anointed Son of God, entered this broken, hurting world.

His miraculous birth, his singularly remarkable life as he walked and taught and healed along the shores of Galilee, and his intentional death on a cross changed everything – including our family’s capacity to bear the deep grief and pain of our daughter’s death. Heather’s trust was in him, and so we know that she and our granddaughter are with Jesus; she and Emily Grace are truly “home for Christmas.”

In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis’s fairy tale, we encounter a world that, like ours, is under a curse of death. In Narnia, we’re told, it’s “always winter but never Christmas.” That is, until Aslan, the rightful ruler and creator of Narnia, shows up.

“Aslan is on the move!” the animals whisper in excitement. The snow begins to melt, the streams begin to thaw, the birds begin to sing, and Father Christmas appears!

I love the Narnia stories because they resonate with the truth of the greatest love story of all time: that Jesus Christ, the rightful ruler and creator of this world, God-in-the-flesh, has burst on the scene, and broken the curse. And that is where I place my confidence again this Christmas and every day in between.

There’s no denying it – Christmas will again be tough. But I wouldn’t want to face this world without it because his coming makes all the difference! And I know that one day the winter will be past and I too will be “home for Christmas.”

—Paul Robinson served as senior pastor at Port Rowan (Ont.) MB Church (2008–2013).

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