Suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host … praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests.” — Luke 2:13-14
As I think about all of you who have attended any of my seven Blue Christmas Masses, and those of you who would have attended this year if not for COVID-19, I am aware of so much sadness, loss and grief that I really don’t know where to start.
I thought long and hard about whether to cancel this year’s Blue Christmas Mass, but I concluded that it might be the safer thing to do. One of the suggestions for replacing it was to publish what I would have said that night in The Record for people to read, while hoping things will be better next year.
Every year, I have tried to find something in the Christmas readings that speak to those who are experiencing sadness and grief during the holidays. This year I want to focus on the singing angels in Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus.
In Luke’s version of the Gospel, Jesus is presented to us as a God with a big heart, a God who embraces all, especially the poor, the left out, women, children, the sick and those going through pain and loss. Jesus is reported as crying in this Gospel when he heard that his close friend, Lazarus, had died.
A perfect example of this tenderness is Luke’s inclusion of singing angels at the birth of Jesus. His Jewish readers would have known that if Jesus had been born at home in Nazareth, the neighbors would have swarmed the house with musical instruments, ready to burst into song, when it was announced that “it’s a boy!” In the absence of joyful neighbors, Luke has singing angels filling in to replace what was missing, bringing joy to the Holy Family’s sad predicament and reminding readers that God is with us, even in situations like theirs. “Emmanuel” means “God-with-us!”
The first Christmas is a portrait of separation, poverty, pain and tragedy. In spite of that, what the angels saw brought them to singing. They saw through that dark veil and saw a savior being born, relief from sin and a glorious destination for God’s people.
Friends, we often tend to forget that God is present when things are going well and tend to think God is absent when things are going badly. The truth is that God is also there with us even in the bad times. Luke makes that gloriously obvious in his touching stories.
As I contemplated how this story of the singing angels at Jesus’ birth might apply to those of you who are grieving, either from losses of years past or from losses only recently, several things came to mind.
First, do not stifle your grief. If you suppress grief too much it can well redouble. Second, the more loss you feel, the more grateful you should be for whoever it was that you had to lose. It just means that you had something worth grieving over. Third, if you feel like crying, go ahead! As Patty Loveless used to sing, “Cry and cry if it makes you feel better.” Research has found that shedding emotional tears, besides being self-soothing, releases oxytocin and endorphins. These chemicals reduce physical pain and ease emotional pain. Fourth, grief is really an aching heart trying to reconcile itself with a painful reality that you find extremely hard to accept. Reconciliation with reality takes time.
Last of all, someday soon you will hopefully come to realize that your loss is actually gain for those for whom you grieve. They are in God’s embrace. As you grieve your loss, as you feel your hurt and as you shed your tears, know that they are now part of that same multitude of the heavenly host that sang at the birth of Jesus. Just as that heavenly choir looked down on that pathetic scene around the birth of Jesus — a poor young couple away from home without their family’s support and having to give birth to the Savior of the world in a smelly animal stall — they look down on your grief and sing to you of the love that God has for you and your loved ones!
Finally, if you found any of these words helpful, feel free to cut them out, copy them and send them to anyone who might benefit from them. For more weekly encouragement go to www.FatherKnott.com.