Of course, the Christmas “season” is a time of joy. After all, what could be more joyful than the Christmas message – that God humbled Himself to become Emanuel – God with us – in the form of the baby Jesus so that all those who believe and embrace His Gospel might be rescued from the curse of death and judgment for our sins? But this BriRant isn’t about that. Well maybe it is… a little, anyway. So read on.
Yeah, yeah. I also know that Jesus wasn’t really born on December 25th – the day we celebrate His coming to save us. Heck, when Jesus was born, the calendar we use today hadn’t even been invented yet. Furthermore, Jesus was certainly born during the reign of Herod the Great. So He couldn’t have been born anytime after Herod’s death in 4 BC. But this BriRant isn’t about that either – not even a little.
So exactly what is it that I’m on about then? What has cast me into a Christmas funk? A friend recently posted a lament about her ambivalence toward the celebration of Christmas. Among many people, there is undeniably an air of apprehension and melancholy surrounding the season, despite the overall climate of joy at the Savior’s birth. Another friend posted that she doesn’t celebrate Christmas at all – pointing out that we Christians must celebrate and reflect the love of our LORD Jesus all the year round, so there’s nothing special about this particular day. She has a valid point. I totally disagree with her carrying that point to the extreme of not celebrating the day itself, but I do understand what she is trying to point out by it. Certainly many – such as the lady I met at the Christmas Eve candlelight service yesterday evening, who lost her husband of over sixty years a scant three weeks ago – have good reason for melancholy at what might otherwise have been a season of joy and celebration for them. But this BriRant isn’t really about that either.
Believe it or not, what’s got me going on this wallow is Christmas cards, of all things! It’s been many years since I last managed to get cards sent out – something I did “religiously” for many years prior to that. For quite a while now, I’ve allowed the hubbub of the season and my life in general to push out card writing. At first it was easy to rationalize. After all, that first year of not sending cards over a decade ago, I was preparing to head out to the war in Iraq the following month, and just didn’t have time or energy for card writing, or for that matter most of the other activities surrounding the Christmas celebration. By the time I got back from the war and was reunited with my wife several years later, both of our sons had grown up and struck out on their own. Since so much of the celebration had revolved around them, there didn’t seem much point anymore in a celebration, or in the writing of cards. Every year since then, it’s been easier and easier to rationalize not reaching out during the season to reconnect with my loved ones scattered around the globe. But this year is different! Having recently retired to what we envision as our last earthly address, it seemed I ought to make the effort to get those cards sent out as I have intended to each year since I last sent them, but for no compellingly good reason, never actually did. To do that first required a thorough scrubbing of my address book. That tedious job has filled me with remorse.
First, there are those whose address book entries I simply deleted. Many were contacts added only in the context of my job, and no longer needed now that I am retired. Each one nevertheless triggered a memory of the time they were added, and a vain yearning to know what’s happening now in these people’s lives despite the shallowness and tangential nature of my professional relationship with them. To be brutally honest, though, it wasn’t very hard to simply discard the record of them, casting them back into the vast sea of humanity about whose lives I know very little, and frankly don’t want to be bothered to learn.
Next, predictably, came the records to be deleted because the folks attached to them are no longer alive on the earth. These fall into two distinct categories. There are those I am as certain as any man truly can be, who knew Jesus Christ as their LORD and Savior. Deleting the records of these folks from my address book was, perhaps surprisingly to some, an act of joy and celebration. After all, I have in my heart the blessed assurance by way of God’s Holy Spirit that I will one day be reunited with these brothers and sisters in Christ, to dwell forever in the glorious Presence of Almighty God, continually worshiping Him forevermore. Now that is a cause for celebration if ever I knew one.
Sadly though, there were also those who to my knowledge died without having called upon the Name of Jesus for salvation that only He can provide. As I deleted each of these from the address book, I couldn’t help but imagine them blotting their own records from the Lamb’s Book of Life spoken of so clearly in Revelation 20. I envisioned them stepping over the body of Jesus Christ broken for them, and wading through His blood poured out for them, to reject His Gospel of eternal life through faith in His resurrection, thus condemning themselves through unbelief in His Gospel to torment in the Lake of Fire for all eternity. As I shuddered at that thought for each of these I once knew, I couldn’t help but wonder – might God have used one of those Christmas cards I failed to send them, or one of those phone calls I failed to make just to ask how they were getting along, to change their minds about His Gospel so that they might have turned to Him in repentance and been saved? Yes, I know. God doesn’t work that way. It was their own hard hearts that condemned them, not anything I did or didn’t do, nor indeed anything that God did or didn’t do. That’s the mystery of free choice over which theologians have argued for nearly two millennia. Nevertheless, the thought did occur to me as I deleted each of their names from my own “book of life.”
Oddly enough, there were two such records of folks who have passed away that I retained – those of my grandmother and my father. Of course, all the address, phone, and e-mail information from these two records has been stripped out, leaving only the record of their dates of birth and death, and in my father’s case, the location of his grave at Arlington – tidbits of information about the two of them that I might need in the future.
In a sense though, the outright deletions from the address book were much easier to do than the remaining cleansing – deletion of addresses, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses for those with whom I have simply lost touch. The records of these people who were once such an important part of my life remain in the book, but the bonds of communication which once held us together have been severed. We are now like islands alone in the sea of our own common humanity with a gloomy unseen connection deep below the surface, but no means of bridging the gaps between us. The empty records in my book for these people cause me the heartache of missing them, and the unfulfillable yearning to speak with them again, to know what is happening in their lives, and what has happened over the intervening years since we were last together, to hug them and squeeze their hands that I might show them that I do truly love them. But what’s worse is the guilt of knowing that it is largely my fault that the bonds have been severed because I was lazy in maintaining them, the convenient rationalization of my own busy life notwithstanding.
These skeleton records are the bitterest for me. Are they alive or dead? How is their health? What are they doing now, and where? How are their families? Are they in need of something I could give or do for them? Do they know that I love them despite all indications to the contrary? Most important – Do they know the LORD Jesus Christ as their own Savior? I simply don’t know.
So I’ve scrubbed the address book. I’ve sent out the Christmas cards. I’ve sent out the Christmas e-mail. I’ve put up the Christmas posts on Facebook and my blog. And now I wait. The “no such mailbox” e-mails are already dribbling into my inbox, so there is more scrubbing needed on my contact list. In a couple of weeks, I’ll start receiving the “not at this address” cards by return post, and that will necessitate yet another round of scrubbing. That’s the sad news, and the reason for this self-indulgent wallow of a BriRant. The good news, though, is that I will soon also receive cards, e-mails, and perhaps even phone calls from those I’d lost hope of ever reaching again. Some of those precious connections will be rebuilt. Best of all, as has already happened a few times in my life, some of those long-lost fellow travelers will tell me, “I’m a born-again Christian now.” And that also will be cause for a Christmas celebration indeed!