Two Funerals…And a Birth

Last Sunday, I went to Jason’s funeral.

Jason had experienced deliverance in his life.  He had taken part in freedom and he, his wife, and their young son became involved at Freedom Fellowship.  Jason had shared his testimony of all the God had done for him.  He was truly an example of what God can do in someone’s life.

But then…something happened.

I wish I knew what it was.  I wish I had realized it when it happened.  I wish I could have done something to help him after it happened.  I wish, I wish, I wish.

I wish he would not have hung himself.

Sunday’s funeral was not easy.  He was young.  (Relatively speaking, anyway; he is only a few months older than me.)  His wife is left without the husband she loved; and who loved her in return.  Their son is left without his dad and many questions will come as he grows older.  The funeral was hard because there were so many questions left unanswered.  So many people wondering, “Why?”  So many people wondering, “What could I have done?”

Jason had experienced deliverance; he had experienced freedom.  What happened that robbed him of that?

We gathered and mourned.  We shared memories and even some laughs.  We hugged and offered promises of help and encouragement.

Last Friday, I went to Alice’s funeral.

Alice and Clarence are fixtures at Freedom and have been for years.  Married for more than 50 years, the two were rarely, if ever, apart from one another.  Alice was such an encourager.  I was told on Friday that when she would fill out a prayer request card, it was almost always Alice asking for someone to be blessed; or for the entire Freedom family to experience a blessing.

Alice was showing signs of her age.  She needed a walker to get around.  She had suffered a stroke earlier this year.  She is no longer suffering.  Now, she can dance as she praises her Savior.

Alice’s funeral, while still sad, was a different experience.  Tears were shed; people cried; yet there were not as many questions to be asked.  Her family was able to gather and sing and tell funny stories and comfort Clarence.  Alice knew the freedom that God offered.  She had experienced deliverance.

We gathered and mourned.  We shared memories and even some laughs.  We hugged and offered promises of help and encouragement.

Two people; very different.  In fact, they are different in almost every way possible:  male/female, white/black, young/old.  Which is what I love about Freedom Fellowship (indeed, the entire family of God):  different people coming together to join one another and offer praise to the One who brings us together in spite of our differences.

Which brings me to today.

We celebrate a birth; the birth of the One who brings different people together.  The birth of the One who offers freedom, hope, and deliverance.

When the old man, Simeon, saw Jesus in the Temple he said, “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace.  For my eyes have seen you salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:29-32).

The birth of Jesus allows us all to come together no matter how different we may seem.  The birth of Jesus allows us to gather.  The birth of Jesus allows us to share memories and laughs.  The birth of Jesus promises us that we are never alone.  We walk the journey of this life together.  We walk together toward the promise of the new life that awaits us.

And that is a gift that is offered to everyone.

From Despair to Peace

“Then in despair I bowed my head, there is no peace on earth I said, for hate is strong and mocks the song, of peace on earth goodwill to men.”

How dare they?  How dare the bells play the song of “peace on earth, goodwill to men”?  How dare people gather to sing about joy and happiness?  How dare people gather to talk about joy coming to the world; have they actually looked at the world?  Do they actually know what’s going on?  Are they paying attention to what the world looks like right now?  How dare the angels come singing songs of peace and goodwill when reality is anything but peaceful or good?

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote this poem on Christmas day in 1863.  It was not long after his wife had died in a house fire that Longfellow received news that his son had been injured while fighting in the Civil War.  Alone and grieving, Longfellow wrote about the pain and loneliness he felt.  But he knew there was more than just the grief.  He knew there was hope.  This is the poem that Longfellow wrote.

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,

and wild and sweet

The words repeat

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom

Had rolled along

The unbroken song

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,

A voice, a chime,

A chant sublime

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,

And with the sound

The carols drowned

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,

And made forlorn

The households born

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;

“For hate is strong,

And mocks the song

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;

The Wrong shall fail,

The Right prevail,

With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

The day of my brother’s funeral, I stood on the porch of my parents’ house with my father.  They live on a street about a quarter of a mile away from the main highway, so I could see the cars driving north and south; people going about their business.  I looked at my dad and wondered out loud how people could still be going to work, or shopping, or doing fun things on the day of Robert’s funeral.  How dare they?  Didn’t they know what was going on?

My dad gently reminded me that life would go on.  He pointed to the number of people who came to Robert’s funeral, not necessarily because they knew and loved Bob, but because they loved the people who loved Bob.  Because of love, not grief–love, they showed up.  My life had changed forever; I felt the pain of death and grief in a way I never had before.  In despair, I was bowing my head.  But these people who loved me and cared for me were just like the bells that rang more loud and deep.  They were singing to me, “God is not dead, nor does He sleep.”  My life was going to continue.

When we step outside and look at the world around us there are a lot of reasons to feel despair.  There are a lot of reasons to think there is no peace on earth.

But the Christmas story tells us something different.  God sent His Son into the pain, into the despair, into the world that had no peace.  God sent Jesus to proclaim a message of peace.  Because of that, we can hold on when life seems to be bleak; we can endure when we would rather give up; we can remember that night will revolve into day once again and life will go on.  The gift of Christmas is that the bells can indeed keep ringing.

As Jesus was nearing the end of His life, He gathered with His closest companions, shared a meal with them, and spoke to them.  The last words He spoke before entering into a time a prayer are found at the end of John 16:  “In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart, for I have overcome the world.”  This world will give us trouble; Jesus gives us peace.

“Then rang the bells more loud and deep, God is not dead nor does He sleep.”

Have peace.  Take heart.  For He has overcome the world.