Early Christmas Presence - Day 12
Early Christmas Presence
~When Grief Brings You to Bethlehem~
A few weeks ago I drove through the little community of Wilburton, OK that I was blessed to grow up in. There was great life in the years my family lived there but there was also staggering loss. My parents divorced as I approached age 16. We moved abruptly from the home we had built on family land. Friendships with classmates were stifled by geographic distance— a fruit of the divorce.
Except for visiting on holidays and an occasional work assignment, I’ve primarily been back to the area to bury my precious grandparents.
The healing work God has done toward the pain in my heart concerning all of the above is extraordinary. Yet, as I approached this familiar little town again, my heart began to physically sting.
There’s something about seasons and spaces that our hearts recognize far ahead of our eyes and our minds. As I drove through on the little highway that runs through that Latimer County community, I could tangibly feel that familiar sting of loss, divorce, and disappointment. And in that moment, I felt the Lord say:
“you’re just passing through this. It isn’t your destination anymore.”
This sense, not in reference to the town, but rather the grief I experienced as I approached it.
And this was such encouragement to me.
As I drove, the passenger seat next to me was empty, and even though I couldn’t see the Lord, I knew He was with me. His presence reminding me, “I’ve been through this space with you before and I will see you through it again, just keep moving forward.”
The irony is that I was driving “through” to take my girls to visit my dad, who was at a town on the other side.
That in and of itself is SUCH a victory over the sting of death that the enemy would love to have me, you, all of God’s people just linger in.
The enemy would love us never to “pass through,” spaces of grief but rather to plant ourselves permanently there in the soil of despair, bitterness, unbelief, pride, hatred, regret... the list goes on and on.
The enemy would love you to believe that the God can’t redeem and use the circumstances of your deepest griefs to produce beautiful fruits like love, joy and peace. The enemy knows the harvest of rich fruit produced from redeemed soil.
And it terrifies him.
I have a restored relationship with my dad, thanks to the redeeming work of Jesus Christ; but in the natural I still experience grief and heartache at the remembrance of what was.
To be clear, I don’t live in that space of “what was” but there are still unexpected times that I grieve over it.
And I think God’s okay with that. I don’t think God would reveal His name in scripture as Healer, Comforter, Provider, and Peace, if there weren’t continual moments where He knew we would be in need of healing, comfort, provision and peace.
But as we approach those moments— which the holidays are for so many— we should be encouraged that He will bring us through it.
Grief is not a final destination for the believer— it can be a catalyst that makes broken hearts desire His plan of redemption.
The book of Ruth paints this picture. A woman named Naomi loses her husband and her two adult sons. With these relational losses, her economic stability is also threatened, along with any familiarity of “normal life.”
In the midst of her loss, Naomi makes a decision to go back to “Bethlehem,” as she has no other legitimate option for survival and that’s where her roots were.
So often, coming back to the roots of our faith and relationship with Jesus is where we also find our sustenance for next steps forward.
You may know the story, but her widowed daughter in law (Ruth), follows her back to Bethlehem. In Bethlehem, a distant relative (called a Kinsman Redeemer in the Bible), redeems the livelihood of Naomi and Ruth through new relationships, new purpose and new provision. There’s some land involved, a marriage, a baby, and new life from what was otherwise just loss.
This is a literal and historical story from the Bible but it paints a picture of what God does for us as our Redeemer (another of one of His Names revealed).
In our grief, He invites us into His presence and takes our brokenness and makes something new from it— but we have to be willing to bring it to Him.
Naomi went to Bethlehem and experienced the presence of a redeemer. The shepherds went to Bethlehem and experienced the presence of THE redeemer.
THE Redeemer (Jesus) being of the same lineage as Ruth, the young widowed woman mentioned just earlier in these words. THE Redeemer birthed from a lineage that came to be because someone came to Bethlehem in their heartache.
Oh, the redemption stories that can still be birthed from our deepest spaces of sorrow! God can take turn valleys of weeping into places of springs and and make our hearts highways toward heaven (see psalms).
Bethlehem, in the Christmas narrative represents the arrival of the Presence of Redemption— but we know Redemption was at work long before He was observed by those such as Mary, Joseph, the Shepherds, Simeon, Anna and the Wise Men.
Redemption was revealed to their eyes as Jesus, or “God saves!” And this is why we can have hope at Christmas— Jesus’ arrival manifests our Lord’s Redeeming presence, not only to the eternal but also in the everyday.
Some redemption we will only see only partially until Heaven; some hurts we will see fully redeemed ahead of eternity, but those details are in be Lord’s hands. He is a Redeemer and He is trustworthy to work on our behalf.
As with Ruth and Naomi, long before their story is mentioned in the Old Testament, we see a thread of redemption weaving life into what otherwise should have been destinations of death and despair.
Jesus arriving in Bethlehem didn’t stop this thread of redemption, it extended it to you and to me.
The thread of redemption— Jesus Christ— is the lifeline to hold onto as we “pass through” seasons and spaces of grief on this side of eternity.
Concerning Jesus, Colossians 1:17 says, “He is before all things and in Him all things hold together.”
That truth includes you—and your heart. He will hold your heart together. Bring your heart to Bethlehem—His Presence— and let Him who holds all things together, show you His plans of Redemption.
(If you are receiving this as part of the Early Christmas Presence Devotional, we realize this is a change in direction in content but felt led someone needed to be reminded of this today.)