Hope of Heaven

by Joanie Butman

During a recent yoga class, our yogini was introducing a challenging pose. After a number of clumsy efforts by the class, she had us lean against the wall to experience how the pose should feel. Her ultimate goal was to have us achieve the same pose without the support of the wall. When you feel the safety of the wall, you can lean into it knowing you can’t fall. This allows you to stretch much further than if you were trying to balance with no one to catch you. I immediately thought to myself – isn’t that just like faith? When you have Christ, and ideally the fellowship of other believers on whom you rely for support, your faith can be stretched to unprecedented levels. Christianity is not meant to be a solo endeavor. We are all in the same class often struggling with difficult positions.

Never is this truer than in tragedy and suffering. Tragedies don’t isolate us; they bring us together, which is right where we need to be when experiencing the dark night of the soul. I see it again and again as people rally around those suffering, to be the wall into which they can safely lean for support. This comes to mind because we lost a member of our community last week in a deadly car accident – a young woman finishing her last year of college. My heart breaks for her family, and I feel guilty preparing for Christmas while they are preparing for her funeral. However, I read something the other day that made me reevaluate. It was the suggestion that the best way to honor what they lost is toappreciate and enjoy what we have.

I’ve heard a number of people comment how the timing of her death must intensify the loss. I’m not sure I believe this because gone is gone. Would the loss be any less painful had it happened two months from now – absolutely not. Sadly, suffering and tragedy don’t take holidays. Just last year at this time the world mourned the horror of Newtown where so many young lives were lost along with the innocence of so many others.

I got to thinking if there were such a thing as a Grinch (which I believe there is but he goes by another name), what better way to attempt to derail Christmas than to suffuse it with inconceivable pain and sorrow? But just like Dr. Seuss’ character learned,

He HADN'T stopped Christmas from coming! IT CAME!

Somehow or other, it came just the same!

And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling:

How could it be so?

It came without ribbons! It came without tags!

It came without packages, boxes, or bags!

And he puzzled and puzzled, till his puzzler was sore.

Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before!

"Maybe Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store.

Maybe Christmas… perhaps… means a little bit more."

The gift of Christmas is the hope of heaven given to us through the birth of Christ. It is into this hope that we can lean for support and comfort knowing it is the only thing preventing us from falling into a pit of despair. During times of intense pain, I can’t think of anything I need more than to be reminded that eventually, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”  (Rev 21:4) This is the promise of Christmas.

There are no words of comfort that will ease this family’s grief. The only thing our community can offer is to choose to stand with them and bear witness to their pain as many will do at the memorial this week. In the darkness of their unimaginable sorrow, we can choose to pray that the hope of heaven and the light of Christmas will eventually carry them through this tragedy to the other side of their pain.

I will leave you with this verse:

“For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our heartsto give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6)

This is the true meaning of Christmas and something we need to celebrate, especially when faced with such unbearable heartache. There is no shortage of suffering in this world. I don’t know anyone who couldn’t benefit from an infusion of the light of Christmas for healing of all kinds.


In memory of Kelsey H. Durkin

1/1/1992 - 12/3/2013