Death on Christmas

It’s after 4AM, early Christmas morning, and not a creature is stirring except for this guy.  I can’t sleep.

In efforts to thwart my sudden insomnia I thought I’d try to grab some updates on my friends’ lives.  Facebook makes that easy enough!  Immediately, I noticed, that many are still entertaining the idea of “pretending.”  There are status updates flirting with the supposed sounds of sleigh bells outside.  There are pictures of milk and cookies and dozens of wrapped presents.  And, I believe the most common update is: “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a goodnight,” obviously reciting the over-chanted Claus salutation.

But, there was one that stood out amongst all the Christmas clatter.  A friend wrote nothing about Christmas.  In fact, the update began with an acronym: RIP.

I won’t bother including the name that followed out of respect to the individual who is no longer (and knowing the power of google-searching one’s name), but rather I’ll focus on the acronym, and more particularly, its usage on a day like today.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 6,600 people die every day in the United States alone.  December 25 is no exemption.  That means, for over 6,000 families, today is going to be a day where the acronym, “RIP,” is utilized.

I remember, three years ago, when my family celebrated “Black Christmas,” or what I’ve since called it.  It was the first Christmas following the death of my brother.  He passed at the age of 23 just over a month prior to Christmas and really the dust of the funeral still hadn’t settled.  So, I’m no stranger to loss, especially regarding the loss of a severely loved one.  But, that’s not what keeps me up this morning.  Yes, I miss him.  Yes, I still cry.  But, this morning I’m thinking of those that have prefixed their Christmas with “RIP.”

I then considered the prophet Isaiah, and, I recalled how over 700 years prior to the birth of Jesus Christ, he prophesied the arrival of the Messiah informing those around him that the Savior would be born of a virgin and he even gave Him a few names:

Wonderful Counselor

Mighty God

Everlasting Father

and, Prince of Peace.

Finally, he even stated his name would be Immanuel (“God With Us.”)

And, while there is certainly plenty to appreciate about the prophesy of the coming Savior of the world, the accuracy of the prophecies, and, of course, the birth and arrival of Jesus, my attention this morning is on the latter of Isaiah’s prophesies.

       4 Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten by God, and afflicted.
5 But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way;
And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.  (Isaiah 53:4-6)

In short, Jesus came to pay the price we couldn’t pay for a life we don’t deserve.  As Isaiah referenced, He is our Wonderful Counselor.  Wonderful, in the Hebrew language, means beyond comprehension, and Counselor, well, all of its meanings apply here:

He is both our Wonderful Advisor and our Wonderful Attorney.

See, Jesus came to step in our place on judgement day.  God’s Word tells us that sin has separated us from him.  He desires that no one shall perish, but the choice is ours.  It’s ours and it’s free to make because of what His son did.  He paid the ransom price, the outstanding balance, in total so that we can enter into a relationship with our Creator.

Sin wasn’t part of God’s original plan.

Neither was death.

God never wanted to begin a day with “RIP.”

God sent His son so that He can become our Advisor.  While we spend our days on earth, Jesus offers Wonderful Advice and on the day we stand before God’s throne, naked and our life in total view, Jesus steps in as our Wonderful Attorney stating, “this one is free.  I love this one and paid the price.”

However, over 700 years before the arrival of that little baby in the classic Nativity set, Isaiah prophesized not only His birth, but His death.

By his stripes we are healed.

Consider Mary, Jesus’ mother, the day after He was crucified.  What was her Facebook status?  How did she cope with the loss of her child?  How does anyone cope with the loss of a child?  As I mentioned before, I lost a close brother, but I haven’t lost a child, and pray I never experience that.

This Christmas Season, as I did my shopping casually, and ran errands throughout my small town, I noticed (perhaps, more than usual) a lot of pain.  I recall the young man peddling his old movies in front of a Walgreen’s, begging me to buy something so he could get enough money to see his daughter in a town about 60 miles away.  Then there was the breath-taking blog of an acquaintance who lost her brother and her dog this year.  Her blog (by the way written so much more beautifully than mine) is painted with pain and despair, but a glimpse of hope and optimism.  She’s clearly hanging on by a thread at times.  There’s the obituary of the child who passed who never saw a birthday that brought me to tears, and the story of the teenager raped by the couple that hired her.  The Facebook status updates on my own wall from friends mourning the loss of another young person.  There’s the rear window of the black car taken up by a beautiful decal of a small child titled, “Mommy’s Angel” followed by two dates.  And, more personally, there’s the quiet Christmas desires my wife shares between her and her own parents.  Being a disfellowshiped, and now former,  Jehovah’s Witness, they have refused dialogue with her since her salvation (one year ago, today).

There’s a lot of pain!  Sometimes I wonder why God hasn’t come back yet?  As we proclaim in church (and sometimes to the point of tears), “God come soon!”

But, then I think of all those in pain, and I think of how much they NEED Him.  God is a god of mercy.  He loves even those that despise Him.  He’s patient.  He’s waiting.  He desires that NONE perish.  And, the salvation of just one more is worth waiting for.

The reason why death is on my mind at 5:46 in the morning (yes, I’ve been typing for over an hour) is because as I think of the arrival of the Savior as a baby boy on that cold Winter morning, I recall the arrival of my first child.  Born healthy and beautiful.  His eyes barely open, but open enough to see my joyful smile.  His tiny fragile body.

My son's hand, grabbing my finger.

My son's hand, grabbing my finger.

Those little hands, one that grabbed my finger and stole my heart.  I can’t avoid those similar feelings that Mary and Joseph must have had that morning.  As Jesus learned to walk, and eat by himself did they think of what the prophet Isaiah proclaimed over 700 years earlier?  As Jesus started to speak, did they take into account that one day he will be on trial and asked to deny his authority? With every hug they ever drew from Jesus, did they envision a cross on a hill that would be the final standing hug he had to offer?

Jesus was born to die.  For us.

He is the greatest gift you will ever receive, and sharing His love with others is the greatest you could ever give.

Merry Christmas.

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