By Kathleen Thomas Gaspar
Lord knows it’s been a tough year for some, and though all around us the season fills hearts with gladness, there are many whose Christmas will be a time of profound sadness and loss.
My own family’s wounds are deep.
Last July my niece Marci lost her oldest son, Kathan, in a tragic car wreck. He was a bright and funny and caring young man whose potential was evident to everyone who met him. You didn’t even need to know him well – Kathan’s enthusiasm was contagious, and his love for life was boundless.
Her son’s death tore into Marci’s heart like no pain ever has. My sister Sharon and her entire family were rocked to their very core.
How do they go on, I wonder? How could their world ever be the same? Marci shares photos and videos of Kathan in every phase of his life, and it hurts to know how she hurts – especially this this time of year, when they were always always always together.
My God, You knows it hurts.
Early in the morning of Aug. 1, two weeks to the day after Kathan died, my brother George died. George, bigger than life his whole life. George, who saved his little sister’s life 20-odd years ago – it was a time when my world crumbled around me.
George, who was always there, although sometimes – lots of times — grumpily so.
So that morning we siblings – Jim, John, Sharon and I – learned that no amount of emotional preparation is enough. Just as George was a giant of a man, so was his death a huge loss for us all.
George’s daughter, our niece Carrie, and George’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren as well as George’s companion Ruthie have borne a loss so heavy, and my brothers and sister and I miss that big ol’ bear of a brother more than these few and foolish words can convey.
But I’ll tell you one thing. It makes my heart ache each when I reach for the phone to call him and remember he’s not on the other end of the line.
In September, a few weeks after George died, my brother John contracted West Nile virus and held the distinction of being one of five confirmed cases in the entire state. Of course it couldn’t be just your run-of-the-mill West Nile – it was meningitis and encephalitis as well. The first several days were very intense as he battled a temperature of 105, ongoing seizures and tremors and excruciating pain.
As the weeks went by, John had to relearn to move, to talk, to feed himself, to stand and to walk. The adjustment in his life was enormous. The adjustment in the lives of all who love him has been difficult as well, because watching him fight has produced every emotion any of us has within us.
John was hospitalized a total of two months and is now recovering at home – which has been modified to accommodate his walker and has handicap-accessible fixtures in the bathroom.
So, yes, our Lord knows it’s been tough year for my family. But certainly the struggles have not been exclusive to us.
Here we are now, days away from Christmas and only a few weeks from a new year, and around me I can sense struggle.
Just in the past two weeks dozens of folks in our town have been told they no longer have jobs. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it? What kind of Christmas comes with that news?
This kind of Christmas comes. The Christmas with Christ.
Luke 2:1-20: “And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria. And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.
“And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; because he was of the house and lineage of David: To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.
“And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
“And the angel said unto them, 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 Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
“And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
“And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.
“And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.”
This Christmas my prayer is for all who take breath to receive the greatest gift of all. My wish is that each and every soul welcomes the stillness of God’s grace. My hope is that the unsettled-ness of the world calms a bit.
Oh, that the discordance of discomfort softens, and the clamor of greed muffles.
I thank You, God, for Your wonders, Your mercy, Your grace none deserves but which You impart to all who believe.
I thank You, God, for salvation.
Jesus is the reason for the season, and we are the reason Jesus came to this fallen world.
In my spirit stirs the sound of a still, small voice, speaking with each breath my body takes and telling me this:
John 16:33: “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”