Less than two weeks ago, I would have told you that St. Margaret’s was progressing nicely toward Christmas, ready to celebrate the birth of the Christ Child. We have had a blessed Advent, and have been looking forward to some wonderful liturgies, including this service. But then tragedy struck Newtown, Connecticut, and since that time, many of our parishioners have been struggling not only to find their “Christmas Spirit” again, but have even been struggling with God in all this. I have heard all sorts of questions from our parishioners. “What kind of God allows this to happen?” “Where was God when those poor children were being slaughtered?” “How are we to trust God now?”
I imagine the emotional state of those who are active here at St. Margaret’s is a bit close to what many of you have already been struggling with for months or even years. Christmas is one of the hardest holidays in the face of grief. Parishes around the country celebrate “Blue Christmas” services because despite what all the media hype tells us, Christmas can be very hard for many of us. All of the forced happiness and gift giving masks the pain, loneliness, and heartache that Christmas can bring. When we are blessed to have our family around, we are reminded of the deep dysfunction and hurt that families sometimes create. When we are away from family, we long for some idealized version of Christmas we have imagined in our heads. And when we have lost someone to life beyond this life, we are reminded of all the Christmases we had with them, wishing we could have just a few more. When faced with the kind of death we saw in Newtown, Christmas can be a time when we would rather rage at God than meekly sit at the Christ Child’s feet.
And so, today we gather. We gather to lift up our “blue” feelings, our pain and our suffering, our anger and our sense of loss back to God. We come today to lift that back to God, because we really do not know what else to do with all of that “stuff” inside of us. Of course, we all experience death differently. For some of us, the death of our loved one is recent, and the pain is as fresh as the day we lost them. For others, our loved one has been gone for a while, but the hurt still lingers and catches us off guard at times. And for others, our loved one has been gone for a long time, but the hollow in our heart will never fully close.
We come to God with all of our “stuff” because somewhere in the depths of our beings we know that God – and only God – can handle our “stuff.” God can handle our anger, our pain, and our grief. God can take our frustration, our fickleness, and our fears. God can handle our lost hope, our distant hearts, and our distrust. We know all of this because we see how Jesus treats Thomas in the gospel lesson we hear today. Thomas is the one among the disciples who is always brutally honest, saying what no one else is willing to say, even if what he has to say does not portray himself in the best light. This Thomas is the Thomas who refuses to believe in the risen Christ until he touches his wounds. And today, in our gospel lesson, this Thomas is the panicked disciple who worries about how to find the way to this spacious dwelling place that Jesus has just described. Jesus does not rebuke Thomas for his questions or even for his implicit doubts. Instead, Jesus stays in relationship with Thomas, teaching him patiently what he needs to learn.
Jesus is patient with Thomas because the words that Jesus offers that day are critically important for Thomas to understand. Jesus is explaining to Thomas and the other disciples gathered what they can now expect about the experience of death. Through Jesus, they are promised resurrection life. They are promised a dwelling place with abundant rooms – a place where Jesus will take them himself. “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” Jesus words are like the words of a soothing mother, teaching the disciples that the experience of death is changed through the life and death of our savior Jesus Christ.
In times of grief, whether grief over violence against children, or the grief over our own loved ones, Jesus words are what we cling to this holiday season. If we can hear those words, “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” we may use this as our mantra to get us through this challenging time. Do not let your hearts be troubled. But if we cannot hear those words today, then remember Jesus’ presence with Thomas, even in the midst of Thomas’ confusion and pain. Jesus stays with Thomas, helping him through this news. So even if we need to be angry with God or are not ready to let our hearts stop being troubled, Jesus will stay with us. Jesus is infinitely patient, preparing the way for us. May you find some peace this Christmas season from Christ’s presence with you. Amen.