A few weeks ago, I stood before friends and family members and gave my mother's eulogy. She had succumbed to injuries sustained in a car accident over Thanksgiving weekend. Just days before her accident, the Lord had given me Hebrews 12:28 to meditate upon as I made a list of things for which I was thankful. At the top of that list was the fact my parents were still alive and in relatively good health.
Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe (Hebrews 12:28 ).
Throughout her time in the hospital and after her passing, I had many occasions to meditate upon the faithfulness of the Lord. My mother's death rocked my world, but God and His kingdom were unshakeable. Whenever someone would muse aloud about why God allowed this to happen, I would acknowledge our mutual grief, but then I would try to gently turn the topic to the greater hope we have in Jesus. Even though we daily receive new mercies from Him, Jesus is not going to patch up this broken world. He is going to give us something much better: a new heavens and a new earth where there are no more tears and no more death. Until then, grief and loss are part of the human experience. These thoughts were what shaped my closing remarks in her eulogy:
When Mom passed away, we knew she wanted to have a funeral shortly thereafter. At first it seemed sad to interrupt the holiday season of feasting and celebrating with a funeral. But during her last days, I realized that a funeral during Advent is actually entirely appropriate. For without the wonderful truth that the Word became flesh and lived among us in the midst of our fallen world with all of its decay, destruction and death—we truly would grieve without hope. Instead, we could commend Mom in her final moments to the loving hands of Her Savior, for He surely knew what it meant to live and suffer in this body of frail flesh.
As the angel said in the gospel of Luke, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Those words proclaimed the good news of God’s divine rescue—a mission to send His only begotten Son into the world to live the perfect life we cannot, to pay the just penalty for our sins, and in turn give us His perfect righteousness. In this incredible exchange of grace, Jesus overcame the curse of sin and its penalty of death.
This is our true reason for celebrating Christmas. And this the true reason all those who put their hope in Jesus have for worshiping Him … even when we must say goodbye in this life to someone we love. Our hope is not that God will spare us hardship in this fallen world, but that in His overflowing mercy we will one day receive a new heavens and a new earth – free from sin, free from death, free from tears – and be reunited with our all those we have loved once before.
And then we will fall on our faces to worship Him who made it all possible.
Last year, I wrote about my memories of my Aunt Kathleen and Uncle Kevin, and how they taught me to be more sensitive about grief during the holidays. My mother was so proud of this blog post that she requested I print it out and send it to various family members who aren't online. Little did I know then that I would write a similar tribute to her this year.
I am not the only one grieving this year. My cousins are also grieving the loss of their father, my mother's brother. Numerous friends are also grieving their family members. And our nation is collectively mourning with the families of Newtown, CT. In fact, grief and loss are entwined in the story of our Savior's birth (Matthew 2:16).
So for all of us who are mourning this holiday, here is a short film my company produced for John Piper only weeks before my mother's passing. I had no idea then that I, too, would need a film titled "Hope for the Hurting This Christmas." But now that I look back over the last two months, I see the kindness of God in preparing my heart in many ways.
Tomorrow I will gather with my family and we will grieve Mom's absence in many ways. But in our mourning, we will be able to cling to the hope that the pierces the darkness of loss: For unto us, a Child is born. And for that reason, I can confidently wish us all a merry Christmas.
(Photo: Beth Altrogge Murphy took this portrait of my mother, Rosalind, during her 80th birthday party two years ago.)