Loss, Lament, and Advent Hope

Mary's Song

It will be fine they can try again. I remember saying these words in my head upon hearing that someone we knew had miscarried. By God’s grace, I never said these words aloud. I had no idea the loss and pain that a couple goes through in losing a child through miscarriage. I now know as we lost our first child through miscarriage. Memories of the elation surrounding the first sounds of a heart beating to the depths of despair accompanying the sonogram showing no movement and no growth. The trip to the hospital to remove the life that no longer was. Untelling those we loved the news we had weeks before broke to them was a painful reminder of a life we would not see in this world. The questions of how the baby was doing by well-meaning people who had no idea were a further reminder of our silent pain.

We came through that season saddened but stronger. To this day I see kids her age, and I think of what she would have been like, and it makes me long for heaven. I actually think of her when we put out our stockings and buy presents for our kids. As we gather at Christmas, we are surrounded by those we love and are reminded of those we have lost. Our Christmas fests with empty chairs that serve as reminders of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb where every seat will be filled. What I found out in the years that followed is the loss that felt so crippling at the time can never be fully healed by time. It can never be replaced by another child. It can only be understood in light of the incarnation of Christ. Of a God Older than eternity, now for you and me has made himself new.

My wife and I lost our first and only child at the time without the promise or guarantee of ever having kids at all. This created in me when we did have kids being overprotective at times and telling them each morning before I left for work to “be safe” because my kids being ok was what made me ok. All of that changed when I was awakened to the gospel truth of what God had done for me in Christ. I realized that my family had become the functional god of my life. That if they were not ok, my life lost its meaning because I didn’t want to experience a loss like that again. I grew up in church and knew all the Sunday school answers to everything. I went to Bible College and learned more answers to more questions. I really did love Jesus, but it wasn’t until I was 31 years old that I found Jesus beautiful. Up until that point in my life, he was, in all honesty, more useful than beautiful.

It wasn’t until I experienced loss myself and walked other people in our church though painfilled loss that I began to see my need for God’s help like I had never before seen. I came across this poem a couple of weeks ago, and it reminded me of the beauty of Christ and the pain of loss.

Mary’s Song
by Lucy Shaw

Blue homespun and the bend of my breast
keep warm this small hot naked star
fallen to my arms. (Rest…
you who have had so far
to come.) Now nearness satisfies
the body of God sweetly. Quiet he lies
whose vigor hurled
a universe. He sleeps
whose eyelids have not closed before.

His breath (so slight it seems
no breath at all) once ruffled the dark deeps
to sprout a world.
Charmed by dove’s voices, the whisper of straw,
he dreams,
hearing no music from his other spheres.
Breath, mouth, ears, eyes
he is curtailed
who overflowed all skies,
all years.
Older than eternity, now he
is new. Now native to earth as I am, nailed
to my poor planet, caught that I might be free,
blind in my womb to know my darkness ended,
brought to this birth
for me to be new-born,
and for him to see me mended
I must see him torn.

For him to see mended, I must see him torn. For him to see mended, I must see him torn. I remember saying something similar one night reflecting on the loss of someone I loved. I remember saying “can’t you see me my heart is broken” “can’t you see this family is torn.” Looking back now the problem wasn’t my heart being torn. The problem was my inability to see that for my heart to be mended I must see Christ torn. Seeing and savoring Christ is the only remedy for a torn heart He was torn so you could be made whole. He was caught so you might go free.

He was blinded in the womb to know my darkness ended. I believe that I will see my oldest child one day. My hope as a Christian is reflected in the gospel hope Jonathan Edwards so eloquently stated: “Our bad things turn out for good. Our good things can never be lost. And the best things are yet to come.” That is the gospel hope we all need this Advent season. Jesus thank you for coming yet still come quickly.

Advent is About Waiting

During Advent, I generally add to devotional reading books, poems, and reflective articles that cause me to pause and think. The essence of Advent that has been lost in a culture that never stops is learning to wait. We have lost the art of patient self-reflection. We have traded introspection for over connection. We have never been more connected yet more alone than we are right now. We in our hurried age with hurried souls need the Advent season to slow us to remember and focus on what is really life.

Celebrating Advent means learning how to wait. Waiting is an art which our impatient age has forgotten. We want to pluck the fruit before it has had time to ripen. Greedy eyes are soon disappointed when what they saw as luscious fruit is sour to the taste. In disappointment and disgust, they throw it away. The fruit, full of promise rots on the ground. It is rejected without thanks by disappointed hands. The blessedness of waiting is lost on those who cannot wait, and the fulfillment of promise is never theirs. They want quick answers to the deepest questions of life and miss the value of those times of anxious waiting, seeking with patient uncertainties until the answers come.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Bonhoeffer is saying that those who can not wait never experience the fulfillment of a promise. Advent is the reminder that we don’t have all that we need in our gifts and abilities. We need God’s help we need rescue. Waiting on a word from God is not something we do well. Listening is not a skill that most people excel in. We must learn to wait on God, wait for a word from Him. Advent is a season of recalibration where we are reminded that doing the most things isn’t the most important thing. That the Messiah doesn’t come in the way or in the form, you would expect.

Waiting challenges our expectations our presuppositions and makes us beggars of truth rather than dispensers of it. Waiting teaches us that our desires and petitions find their fulfillment in seeing God revealed in a baby. Even though scripture doesn’t give us much detail on the years between Jesus’ birth and his ministry, I think the silence of scripture magnifies the truth that even when the Messiah was here he waited until it was his time. Likewise, we must wait. Waiting for the Messiah is something that we have done since the promise of the snake crushing seed was given to our first father and mother. Seven hundred years before Christ the promise was renewed by the prophets telling us not to lose heart the Messiah was coming he was on his way. The people of Isaiah’s day waited for the coming Messiah. It is that coming that we celebrate. It is for that coming that we recreate that sense of longing and waiting for the Advent of Christ for which so many of the true offspring of Abraham patiently endured. We don’t just remember and imagine the longing they must have felt in waiting for the fulfillment of every promise. We wait. We wait for the final Advent of Christ his second coming that was promised to us by Christ himself that is confirmed to us by Scripture.

Looking For Advent Resources For Your Family?

Christmas is such a significant time to teach our kids the value of Christ to show them a God who came near. There is so much of our faith that our kids have to grow into. Some things will forever be a mystery, but one thing kids can understand is babies. Jesus, the God-man, becoming a baby. Kids need to know why he came and how he comes. I love how beautifully Sally Lloyd-Jones describes the coming of Christ.

“Everything was ready. The moment Go had been waiting for was here at last! God was coming to help his people just as he promised in the beginning. But how would he come? What would he be like? What would he do?
Mountains would have bowed down. Seas would have roared. Trees would have clapped their hands. But the earth held its breath. As silent as snow falling, he came in. And when no one was looking, in the darkness, he came.”

Advent is Christ coming into our darkness where we least expect it when we least expect it. He came. He came.

Happy Advent.

The Expected One: Anticipating All of Jesus in the Advent

Every Christmas, Christians all over the world celebrate the Advent season, recognizing the love, hope, joy, and peace that is found only in Jesus Christ. Through this devotional, Scott James brings to light the many promises of Christ―from birth to ascension―that demonstrate His love for us during this Christmas season. These daily devotions, which are designed for both family and individual use, are timeless and moving reminders of the true gift of Christmas.

The Littlest Watchman: Watching and Waiting for the Very First Christmas

Benjamin is a Watchman. It’s his job to watch for the sign that all God’s promises are coming true to watch a stump.

The trouble is, it’s hard just waiting. And one night, Benjamin finally gives in and stops watching. But that same night, as he sits outside Bethlehem, he gets to watch something wonderful.

Kids will be gripped by what Benjamin saw and will be excited by the Christmas story all over again.

The Jesus Storybook Bible

I did a blog post a few years ago that we unexpectedly discovered that there are 24 Bible stories that lead to the Christmas story in Sally Lloyd-Jones’ book. We read one each day. If you haven’t figured it out already, we are big fans of all people named Lloyd-Jones in the Luce house.

Unwrapping the Greatest Gift: A Family Celebration of Christmas

I love Ann’s passion for the gospel as evidenced in her writing. Gratitude is more than a good idea it’s a sign of a life marked by the gospel of Christ. In Ann’s latest offering she has produced an Advent devotional that is as beautifully illustrated as it is written.

Lifeway Family Advent Guide

Here is a reproducible, email attachable, family advent guide that you can share with families in your ministry. We hope these will help to focus your ministry emphasis this season and lead families to be reminded of the true meaning of Christmas.

The Advent Storybook From David C. Cook

Add The Advent Storybook to your family holiday traditions and enjoy the rich images and thoughtful retellings of ancient stories that feature God’s recurring, faithful promise to rescue us. A simple question at the end of each story helps readers engage in understanding the bigger story God wants us all to know—the good news of Jesus coming to save us. Parents and children alike will delight in the biblical messages of joy, hope, and peace every day as they look forward to celebrating Jesus’ birth.

Prepare Him Room

Guide kids and their families into the heart of Christmas with this gospel-focused, four-week Advent curriculum.

Prepare Him Room by children’s best-selling author Marty Machowski takes a biblical, theological approach to the Old Testament promises and New Testament fulfillment in Christ in a way kids can understand.

With age-appropriate instruction and activities for three different learning levels—preschool, lower elementary, and upper elementary—Prepare Him Room builds gospel hope and enduring theological depth into each child’s celebration of Christmas.

Family Advent

My friend Jenny Smith has a great resource for advent a website that you can go to each and click on the number that coordinates with the date. They will then be linked to a devotional for that day. Each devotional includes:

  • a few verses of Scripture to read together (there are also links where you can read it online and even have it read to you)
  • some discussion thoughts and questions
  • a suggested activity to do together
  • usually some online activity, either a video to watch together or a game to play (please know that we have no control over other content that YouTube links or promotes)
  • a prayer prompt for your family

Christmas hope no matter how dark the darkness

Christmas is a paradoxical holiday it is filled with such joy and at the same time reminds us of great losses. When studying the other night, I came across a message by Tim Keller that talks about how the light of Christmas dispels the shadow of death. I found it convicting and encouraging. I hope that you who feel overwhelmed this Christmas can find your hope in the light the gospel provides. We have much to be hopeful for and rejoice about. We celebrate at Christmas how Jesus came close.

“As silent as snow falling, he came in. And when no one was looking into the darkness, he came.” – Sally Lloyd-Jones

Just before Bonhoeffer was executed, he wrote this to a friend: “Death is the supreme festival on the road to freedom.”

“Death used to be an executioner, but because of the gospel, Jesus has made death just a gardener. All death can do is plant me in his love and make me come up in ways I’ve never been before.” George Herbert

What is Bonhoeffer saying? What is that? A light dawned on Bonhoeffer. In spite of the fact that there was darkness all around him, the shadow of the fear of death, because he believed Jesus Christ was from that other world, born into this world, Jesus Christ died on the cross to pay the debt the human race owed to justice, so when we died believing in him we can have no fear of anything we have done somehow stymying us or drawing us down so we don’t have to be afraid of death in any way, what did that mean?

Because Bonhoeffer wasn’t afraid of death, he wasn’t afraid of anything. Because Bonhoeffer was afraid of death, he didn’t care about comfort. He didn’t care about affluence. He didn’t care about power or pleasure or sex or money. He didn’t care. That’s why his people said, “You have it made. You can be a successful professor out here away from Germany. You don’t have to go back in there.”

He didn’t want to not go back. Why not? The shadow of death did not fall on him. He lived in a dark world, but because he believed in Jesus, a light dawned. Because Jesus was born in a manger, that means this world is not all there is.

If you let the knowledge of what Jesus Christ is and has done dawn in your life like Bonhoeffer, you can walk around in any part of the world, any century, any situation without fear.

Bonhoeffer is the exact opposite of the kind of person western Civilization according to Ernest Becker is producing. He wasn’t obsessed with romance and love. He wasn’t obsessed with money. He wasn’t being driven to be successful. There was nothing frantic about him. Because he wasn’t afraid of death, he wasn’t afraid of anything. Christmas means fear no darkness. Christmas means fear not. The angels are always showing up in all the Christmas stories saying, “Fear not, Mary. Fear not, Zechariah. Fear not. Fear no darkness.”

Spurgeon said it this way.

The coming of Jesus to us, when he does really come into our hearts, takes away the darkness of ignorance, sorrow, carelessness, fear, and despair. Our night is ended once for all when we behold God visiting us in Christ Jesus. Our day may cloud over, but night will not return. O, you that are in the blackest midnight, if you can but get a view of Christ, morning will have come to you! There is no light for you elsewhere, believe us in this; but if Jesus be seen by faith, you shall need no candles of human confidence, nor sparks of feelings and impressions: the beholding of Christ shall be the ending of all night for you.

C. H. Spurgeon

“The beholding of Christ shall be the ending of all night for you!” Powerful profound truths to ponder this Christmas season. Thank you, Tim Keller. Thank you,  Charles Spurgeon. May the light of Christmas dispel the shadow of death in your life. May the hope and joy of Advent fill your heart as you seek him!

The long term damage consumerism causes

 

I am not Amish and don’t churn my butter. I actually love technology and new things but I think events like Black Friday and disposable everything does more damage to our society than good. We have this obsession with new. When is the last time you repaired anything? Everything we own is new until it’s not anymore then we discard it and replace it and not repair it. Why fix my TV for 200.00 when I can get a new one for 300? We have a society that no longer sees the value in old things. We even want a new version of our old things and call it retro. We live in a society that used to value “growing old” together, now it seems everywhere you turn people are cashing in relationships to chase new things they think will make them happy but what we don’t know is that this new relationship will eventually break and if  we don’t learn to value old things we will never understand or experience the power of redemption. The long-term damage consumerism causes reaches farther into our lives than just our stuff, it erodes the fabric of our relationship because our desire to have new things slowly makes its way into the most important relationships in our lives.