This has been a week of unexpected sadness at St. John’s. Monday morning I received a call from long time members of our church family, Frank and Bobbi Allen, informing me that their grandson, who has lived with them for many years, had died in his sleep. Jeremy McKinney Allen was well known to many of us, he was a member of our youth group under the leadership of Scott & Mel Bomar, he had many long-time friends at St. John’s, and several like me had just wished him a happy 30th birthday. Like you, I felt shock and deep sadness that someone so young was taken from us. We will be having a funeral service for Jeremy at Forest Home, Hollywood Hills on Thursday, December 21st at 2:30pm.
The death of a family member or close friend is something we are never prepared for, but especially during a joyous season like Christmas. Earlier this week we also heard news reports of the death of a young firefighter who was taken by the massive Thompson fire that continues to burn this weekend, and that has caused untold millions of dollars in property damage. An army of seven thousand have worked courageously to get this fire under control. The firefighter left behind a child and his pregnant wife.
There is obviously much to celebrate and give thanks for during the Christmas season, but one of the truths of Jesus’ birth that I often avoid thinking about is the sorrow that accompanied it. For when Herod learned that the Christ child had been born in Bethlehem, Matthew tells us that he ordered that “all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under” be killed (Mat. 2: 16). The pain of that part of the Christmas story reminds us that Jesus entered a world that was under the yoke of tyranny and accustomed to grief. Jesus knew what it was to feel abandoned and deserted; and when he knelt at the tomb of Lazarus he wept at the power that death has to terrify us in this life (John 11). Yet in that same account, Jesus says to a grieving friend, “Martha, I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even if they die, shall live.” Jesus rose from his knees and cried out, “Lazarus, come forth!” And on the third day, early in the morning, Jesus himself walked out of an empty tomb. Yes, he really did! This is indeed the good news that outshines the worst news we can receive; and yes, even when it comes at Christmas. “Never fear the worst,” Rev. David Watson once said, “the best is yet to be.”
Friends, we who are in Christ do not grieve as those who have no hope. Because of Jesus we have a healing community of grace and caring with which we can share our deepest pain. Because of Jesus we can say “Merry Christmas” even and especially when it hurts. For “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” – Hebrews 4: 15-16.