December 02, 2012

Just strong enough

Here are the words of my reflection, offered at the Blue Christmas Service, in the basement of All Saints' Anglican Church, Erin, on Sunday, December 2, 2012.

Jesus tells us that we must stand firm to the end.

The evangelist Mark, writing in apocalyptic style, quotes Jesus as saying, "The sun will be darkened, the moon will lose its brightness, the stars will come falling down from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. ... When you see these things happening, know that he is near, at the very gates."

He was speaking of the end of our world. But as individuals, we can also have an event that shakes our personal world so severely, that it seems like an apocalypse. In times of distress, we need to stay alert, because it is an opportunity to feel the nearness of God. When our world is turned upside down, we need to listen, to find out what we should do next.

When the angel Gabriel visited Mary, she was "greatly distressed" – that could well be an understatement. Her life was thrown into turmoil. But when God's plan was revealed to her, she said, "I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled."

And Joseph was surely in distress, upon learning that Mary was pregnant. But when God's plan was revealed to him, he did what the angel of the Lord commanded him.

When our son Thomas died six months ago, we were unsure about God's plan, and we felt the need to pray. God reached out to comfort us. He sent his angels – friends, family, Father Joe and the musicians at the funeral, and total strangers here in Erin.

The rituals surrounding death did their job, helping us to be outward with our grief and to acknowledge our pain. Through my work with the newspaper, I was able to be open about the difficulties of dealing with mental illness and suicide, and brought  some comfort to other people struggling with similar challenges.

We are fortunate to be optimistic, action-oriented people by nature, with no feeling that we are entitled to an easy life. Billions of people have grieved the loss of a child, so we're not all that special.

We all know we must suffer, but it always comes as a shock. We have to remember that God is not the source of evil and misfortune, but He does ensure that we need not face them alone.

We are not commanded to understand. We are commanded to love. We carry on for the glory of God, which makes it a joyful duty.

To carry on, we need healing. That requires comfort, a restoration of confidence, and a firm kick to put us back into action. That is a natural process, but for me it is helped along by hearing God's word.

I need constant reminders that I am the same person I was when I was born; the same one who was a little kid in school, the same one who fell in love, raised children, worked and played, and who is enjoying the privilege of growing old.

I need constant reminders that the evils of this world are temporary. That my body and my mind, and all these emotions, are temporary.

I need constant reminders that death has been defeated, that we are loved without condition, and that our souls will continue to praise God, even after time itself has come to an end.

Heavenly Father, teach us how to use our times of sorrow to become more humble. To focus on the really important things. To forgive, and to accept forgiveness. To grow closer to our families. To care for our neighbours. And to love you with our whole being.

Let us heal, and grow just strong enough to do your will. Amen.