This month at Normandy we are observing Advent. Advent means “the coming.” It is a season before Christmas when the church is filled with longing, waiting, and hopeful expectation. We celebrate that Christ came and we wait expectantly for Christ to come again. So far we have talked about Expectation and Preparation. This week, the sermon will be about pain. The pain that exists for us in this time of “already, not yet.” Because Christ has come but he has not come again.
In staff meeting a couple of weeks ago, we were discussing Advent and Christmas music and the service. I found myself getting so upset about it I choked out the words “I desperately need Advent.” Two years ago, fourteen days before Christmas, my brother, my only sibling, lost his battle with mental illness and took his life. My world shattered that day but what I didn't know then was that my God didn’t break.
I am currently reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book God is in The Manger. He says
And then, just when everything is bearing down on us to such an extent that we can scarcely withstand it, the Christmas message comes to tell us that our ideas are all wrong, and that what we take to be evil and dark is really good and light because it comes from God. Our eyes are at fault, that is all. God is in the manger, wealth in poverty, light in darkness, succor in abandonment. No evil can befall us; whatever men may do to us, they cannot but serve the God who is secretly revealed as love and rules the world and our lives.
I need this. I need the Gospel message. I need Jesus to come and turn the world on its head. I need my vision fixed. I need to know that what we take to be evil and dark can be transformed to good and light.
I was tasked with writing about “mourning well.” I’m not sure I have mourned well. I flailed emotionally. I blamed people. I was erratic and unstable. I gained weight and coped in unhealthy ways. I remember looking at my parents in the hours following the phone call telling me Paul was gone and thinking: “How can we survive this?”
But we did. We still are. My faith is intact.
Here is how: Discipleship. Michelle Kaserman and I had begun a discipleship relationship just weeks before Paul died. She stuck with me. She let me ask questions (OVER AND OVER) and then turned me to Jesus (OVER AND OVER). She asked me once, “Do you really want to go down that road? The one where God is not real? Or worse the one where He is not good?” I didn’t. I allowed her to push me in His direction.
I white-knuckled the promises that God is real, God is good and that God never leaves us. I held on to the promise that “When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’” 1 Corinthians 15:54.
I held fast to what I knew to be true and let the things I don't have the answers to pass through my fingers.
I wrote out the things I believed about God and what He promises us; and I asked Him if he was lying. I needed Him to help me believe the things I had believed before December 11, 2014, in my new reality. I worshipped. I stood as close to the exit and as far from the front of the church as I could. For a long time, every word felt like a lie. I needed God to change my mind and my heart. I allowed space in my spirit for the possibility that the two truths that God is good and my brother had passed in a horrible and traumatic way didn't have to cancel each other out. I spent time with Him when I didn’t want to. I was not perfect in the work, far from it. I showed up and I was honest. He also showed up. Time with Him changed my heart and in that time He gave me the gift of faith to hold together His goodness and losing Paul.
Two years removed from that day I can say this with confidence: God is good. God is sovereign. God is with us.
Allowing God meet me in my darkest season changed me in ways that I am not sure anything else could. Seeing God's goodness in the midst of horror didn’t make me doubt, it made me hope desperately. As Peter says in John 6:68, ”Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” We have a choice when life presses in and when circumstances crush us. We can allow it to harden us, we can turn our backs on the Lord. For me a life without God, without the promise that He would right all that was wrong and wipe every tear, was scarier than anything. When my earthly hope was dashed in an instant my eternal hope became necessary. When we allow God to enter into our suffering we receive a greater measure of Him and after all, He is the only good thing. He is all that is true. He has defeated hell and death and whatever is tormenting you. So in that light we have nothing to lose and more of Him to gain. When we allow Him to enter into our suffering we receive more of Him. Our suffering is not for nothing and in the kingdom nothing is wasted. All can be for the Glory of God so that we may know Him. He is faithful. I heard the voice of God twice on the day I lost my brother. Light pierces darkness. My hope is more sure now because it is in the only sure thing my God.
2 Corinthians 4:7-18
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.
Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.