On this mild Christmas Day, I took a good, longer than usual walk with our dog, Gunner. We stepped through a few blocks in the neighborhood, then walked through the nearby cemetery. There were a few cars there, which seems like an unusually sad way to start one’s not-so-merry Christmas. I don’t think I had ever noticed so many Christmas wreaths in a cemetery before this. Mind you, I’ve been to lots of cemeteries, and at all times of the year, given the many hospice funerals I’ve done in my lifetime. Ordinarily, the pinwheels and altar-like tributes at graves give me a sense of appreciation for the person buried there. Cemeteries have allowed photos and toys, flags and metal cut-outs of tractors and trucks and creative memorabilia. All of these have offered a glimpse of the person’s life or of their loved ones’ attachment to them. But Christmas wreaths at the cemetery cause one to think about the juxtaposition of Immanuel, God-with-us, and the pain of experiencing grief of someone so wrenchingly NOT-with-us. This is human brokenness in acute form. After all, my awareness of grief is that its pain is exacerbated because the difficulties in life ordinarily are shared with those close to us. Part of what is so awful about grief is that the person on whom we’d depend to get us through such pain is not there. That may be incredibly obvious, but not so widely understood until one knows that pain up close. This made me wonder about human brokenness in the face of the incarnation. I wonder if we are most broken when we think we’re not; we are most in need of God’s presence and real-ness when we think we’re doing quite fine. Conversely, most of us know the kind of brokenness that brings us to our knees in yearning for God’s intervention, presence, and power. When we enter the Christmas season, Christmas Day being the first of 12 days in that season, perhaps our joy would be enhanced by being in touch with our grief and brokenness. In sobering terms, the incarnation is the necessary remedy for our brokenness. How’s that for “Merry Christmas?” The hymn, “O Lord how shall I meet you?” makes me think of these contrasts. The second verse says,
Love caused Your incarnation, love brought You down to me; Your thirst for my salvation procured my liberty. O love beyond all telling, that led you to embrace In love all loves excelling our lost and fallen race. We rarely grasp the magnitude of our own brokenness, even as grief pierces our minds and souls. We certainly know that someone who has died is achingly absent, but combining what we know with our awful feelings of loss is exactly the work and process of grief. In the way that we bring our grief around to make needed changes in our lives, to “go on” in life, perhaps we touch on the miracle of Jesus’ making whole what we feel as broken.The Christmas wreaths are expressions of combining our sadness with awareness of death. It takes a significant dose of bearing reality to bring oneself to place a wreath at a grave, after all. It’s way of coming around, with full realization that we never arrive, but rather, are re-oriented in how we face the future. The grief becomes a part of us, perhaps in an incarnational sort of sense. When we “come round right,” grief can be incarnated in our new perspectives on life, as another Christmas hymn says:
Good Christian friends, rejoice with heart and soul and voice; now ye need not fear the grave: Jesus Christ was born to save! Calls you one and calls you all to gain his everlasting hall. Christ was born to save! Christ was born to save! As I am encircled by family during these holidays, I am grateful for the ways these dear ones make real God’s grace, presence, and love to me, which is also a necessary incarnational remedy. We broken ones welcome the Incarnate One who became human, one of us who is One-With-Us.