Holidays, Memories, and People We Miss December 23 2019

(Part of BCF’S blog series: “Society, Selflessness, and the Scriptures")

It is amazing how a sight, a smell, a taste, or a sound can bring back a flood of memories from earlier in our lives. The Christmas holidays are especially like that, when families tend to get together over a meal, gift giving, and for Christians, a celebration of the birth of God’s Son. Memories may be triggered by the people, the food, grandma’s house, or even the trip to grandma’s house.

Or sometimes it is the absence of grandma that brings those thoughts to mind. It’s not unusual for people to think things like “this will be the first Christmas without mom.” Or dad. Or a son or daughter. Or Uncle Bob.

I say “Uncle Bob” because many of you know that “Uncle Bob” Schneider, former president of BCF, went home to be with the Lord in September of this year. Having lived with us for 25 years, the absence of Uncle Bob now brings back many memories as we go through the holiday season. He was always the one to unpack the tree ornaments, to admire the decorations, to enjoy the traditional pumpkin bread, to read parts of Luke 2 with us on Christmas eve, and in his earlier days, to wash Christmas dinner’s pots and pans (and that was a sacrifice indeed).

All of us have “Uncle Bobs” in one way or another – people who at the holidays remind us of things simply because of their absence. The memories that resurface can be about hard times, good times, fun times, and sad times.  And that person’s earthly departure may have resulted in some serious challenges for maintaining daily life: finances, taking care of the household, and many other things.

The first Christmas after Shashi’s dad died at age 50 was a tough one, especially for her mom, who was still in her early 40s at the time. Shashi’s mom had been especially dependent on her husband. There was a lot of uncertainty about her future, and this was compounded one Christmas eve a couple of years after that, some 40 years ago.  I still remember very vividly when I was on the receiving end of a highway patrol officer’s phone call that started with “I just want you to know that they are OK, but they are in the hospital.” It turned out that Shashi’s mom and sister had just been in a head-on collision on a country road in Maryland that evening.

Life is full of unexpected, difficult events like this – things we may not have been very well prepared for. Some of you are probably going through one of those times even now. And yet in the midst of all the uncertainties, we as believers have the privilege of seeing the bigger picture of God’s plan for the world and how to deal with the uncertainties life presents. It is interesting to think about Mary and Joseph in this regard, who had more than their share of uncertainties: a visit by an angel; a miraculous pregnancy that others would never understand; having to travel to back to Bethlehem for the census; shepherds showing up out of nowhere to visit their new baby. Luke 2:18-19 captures the amazement and sense of “what does this all mean?” experienced by those gathered there:

And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.”

In other words, they heard what God was saying to them through the angels, but they did not fully understand its implications. More of God’s plan would only be revealed bit by bit over the next 33 years. We, on the other hand, have the distinct benefit of the written Word of God that now enables us to look back on these events to see more fully God’s plan for the world and to understand His practical principles for living. He left us with His “instruction manual,” a.k.a. the Bible.  As our Creator, He knows how we humans are put together.

Jesus spent a lot of time with His disciples. And even though it was a short three years, He did all He could to prepare these men for what they were about to see and experience. But even with Jesus teaching the disciples in-person, they had doubts and uncertainties. John Chapters 13-17 represent the culmination of Jesus’ teaching of the disciples about the things they would face in the days and years ahead. In John 16:1-4, He sums up the instruction He had just provided at their final meal together in Chapters 13-15, just prior to His crucifixion:

“These things I have spoken to you so that you may be kept from stumbling. They will make you outcasts from the synagogue, but an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God. These things they will do because they have not known the Father or Me. But these things I have spoken to you, so that when their hour comes, you may remember that I told you of them.”

Jesus goes on to explain that He is going back to the Father, and because of that, He says of the disciples that “sorrow has filled your heart.” In other words, the disciples realized that they were soon going to be missing Jesus, and they were concerned about the implications. Certainly, it had been an amazing three years, and it was difficult to imagine being without Him. In verses 5-15, Jesus explained that the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity would not be just “with them” (like Jesus had been) but would be “in them.”

Despite that teaching, the disciples still had a hard time letting go of the physical, visible Jesus, even after Jesus told them of His coming resurrection (verses 16-24). After all of this explanation, the disciples declared (verse 30) “we believe that You came from God.” But Jesus further reminded them that:

Behold, an hour is coming, and has already come, for you to be scattered, each to his own home, and to leave Me alone; and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me. These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (verse 33).

In other words, while life was going to become more difficult for the disciples, their peace was not dependent upon their circumstances but upon Jesus Himself. God did not say to the disciples that they would have peace because they had developed good “coping skills.” Rather, supernatural peace can be found by having our faith in and focus on the right Person even in difficult, high stress situations.

John writes of this again in 1 John 5:4 – “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments: and His commandments are not burdensome. For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith.” The Greek word translated “victory” is nike, and the word for “overcome” is nikao. This “nike that nikaos the world” is much more powerful and enduring than the company made famous by its tennis shoe.

Although this mini-study of Jesus and the disciples may seem like a little diversion from where we started this blog (i.e. how at Christmas we miss family and friends who are no longer with us), Jesus’ powerful instruction to the disciples is relevant to us in this sense: yes, life is not the same without the “Uncle Bobs” in our lives (or grandma, grandpa, mom, dad, son, daughter, or friend); but keeping our focus on Jesus and on “loving God and others” (i.e. on His commandments) will be the ultimate source of our peace and joy through times like this. Dwelling on how difficult or sad our life has become will only drag us down and discourage others. And yes, the absence of that person may mean that there are more things we are responsible for; more financial stress; or more day-to-day challenges. But this is when it is especially important to, by faith, read and follow the life-giving Word of God in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Some of those people who have been most encouraging and inspirational to our family are those going through extraordinarily difficult times who still exhibit the joy of the Lord. They are the types of people who you try to help out and encourage, because you know what they are going through, but you come back as the one who was encouraged, because you see their focus and their spirit of joy and trust in the Lord. By the grace of God, I would hope to be that kind of person.  God bless you and family as we celebrate the birth of Jesus, who is the ultimate example of this still today.

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Steve Smith