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The Other Side of Christmas

This past year my wife lost her mother and my children lost a grandmother. Christmas can be a time of loss and sorrow and thought this might be a help to all who read it.

 

Mt 2:16 – Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently enquired of the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, 18 In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.

Luke 2: 25 – And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him. 26 And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 And he came by the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him after the custom of the law, 28 Then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said, 29 Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: 30 For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,31 Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; 32 A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel. 33 And Joseph and his mother marvelled at those things which were spoken of him. 34 And Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary his mother, Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; 35 (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.

Luke 2:19 – But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.

 

In these passages we see a different side of Christmas, the other side. On this side there is no miraculous appearing of angels, there is no singing, there is no worshipping of the newborn king who came to save the whole world. There are no presents. On this side, every baby boy and every baby girl was slaughtered by a jealous man. In this story, a man knew the time of his death had come. In this story, this man Simeon told Mary that fall and rise of many in Israel would be caused by her son. In this story, Mary is told that her son is going to suffer, and she was going to watch. In this story, Mary is told that she will suffer like no other woman as she watches her son die for all of us.

I was eighteen years old when I sat in chapel and listened to the Vice President of our college read those very words of scripture you just heard. He talked of all the suffering and heartache that many of my classmates were going through. I did not know then that I was about to be greeted with the other side of Christmas.

My father, a high school dropout, grew up on the streets in a divorced home. He was a tough guy even worked for the mafia running numbers for some time. He was loud, mean, cussed and drank beer though he was no alcoholic. I learned that my father was incorrigible at the age of five.

He didn’t get saved until late in my teen years, but the damage was done. Before I came home for Christmas, he hit a big yellow bus twice. He blacked out. The doctors discovered he had a brain tumor the size of a baseball. I can remember coming back from college and joining my mom as she begged and pleaded with the doctors to let him come home for Christmas.

He was still strong that Christmas, but not as strong. I saw frustration in the menial things he used to be able to do, he could no longer do. We had Christmas like normal, but things were about to get worse.

 

That spring, my father went into surgery to remove the tumor. We weren’t too sure he would make it out alive. I flew back to see him. He pointed to his scalp. A scar had replaced the once jet black hair that he was once so proud of.

Twenty years ago, Christmas came once more. It would be his last. I did my usual job on Christmas Eve where I separated all the gifts by person and readied it for Christmas morn. Mom woke and made coffee and cinnamon rolls. I still remember the smell of Café Bustello filling the house.

I went to their bedroom where my father lay on his deathbed surrounded by stuffed animals I used sleep with as a kid. I lifted him and carried him in my arms like a babe. Understand I’m no strongman. All that was left of a once strong and proud man was skin and bones.  I sat him in his chair, one of those blue lift chairs. He grabbed a wine bottle container full of jelly beans and started eating them to stop his hiccups.

We went through the gifts, Mom got the most like she always did. Then Dad got his gift from my mother. He was like a little kid that Christmas morn as he ripped through the wrapping paper. He opened a white box. His fingers tapped the gift and wept. The frame wasn’t special, you could get it at any $.99 store. The picture probably cost even less, but that picture was special. It was a picture of him and my mom on their last date at a Christmas Party.

My mom told me later that she had seen that picture at work and hunted it down. Her coworker scrounged to find the original and gave it to her. That act meant so much to her and the gift meant more to my father. She blew it up and put in the frame.

That Christmas I watched how he made peace with those he wronged for so many years. He must have known his time was nearly up. He grew tired, and I carried him back to his bed.

A few weeks later on Monday, I got a phone call. “Your Dad has two to three days to live,” my mother said. I flew out that Wednesday after chapel. Too late.

As my mother told it, several people from church sat around his bed. He wanted them to sing a “praise song.” They sang “Blessed Assurance.” He went to heaven during the second verse. They sang the third and chorus.

That was my other side of Christmas. During this time of year, instead of celebrating the coming of Christ, many are full of sorrow, anger, and/or depression. I hope with these three following thoughts, it can help you have a merry Christmas.

 

  1. Remember there are those suffering at this time.

 

The highest suicide rate happens from now to December 31. Why? Because people hurt most during this time. Christmas is often a reminder of the pain of losing a loved one. This Christmas will be someone’s first Christmas without a mom or a dad or grandpa or a grandma or aunt or uncle or a brother or a sister or a son or a daughter. I have had a bus kid one year lose a brother and had to deal with it during Christmas. Hey, before this Christmas season is done, you may lose a loved one. Don’t forget that Jesus came to suffer and die for you and me.

Jesus left His home in heaven to be born in a manger, one of the lowliest of places. One of His own betrayed him. His disciples abandoned him when they came to arrest Him. Peter denied him thrice. The Pharisees lied about Him. His people rejected him for a murderer, Barabbas. Then his people called for Him to be crucified. The Roman soldiers mocked Him, stripped Him naked, beat Him, whipped Him, and finally crucified Him. This His mother had to witness. He did it for us, but it was still suffering like no man had ever endured. Then while on the cross, as all the sins of the world were placed on Him, God the Father turned his back on Him. He suffered hell on the cross.

Years after my father went to heaven, I came upon a book, The Christmas Shoes, based on a true story. (It was a brother and sister instead of one boy.) I read it and wept. In the back was this poem.

 

The Christmas Shoes

NewSong

 

It was almost Christmas time, there I stood in another line

Tryin’ to buy that last gift or two, not really in the Christmas mood

Standing right in front of me was a little boy waiting anxiously

Pacing ’round like little boys do

And in his hands he held a pair of shoes

His clothes were worn and old, he was dirty from head to toe

And when it came his time to pay

I couldn’t believe what I heard him say

 

Sir, I want to buy these shoes for my mama, please

It’s Christmas Eve and these shoes are just her size

Could you hurry, sir, daddy says there’s not much time

You see she’s been sick for quite a while

And I know these shoes would make her smile

And I want her to look beautiful if mama meets Jesus tonight

 

He counted pennies for what seemed like years

Then the cashier said, “son, there’s not enough here”

He searched his pockets frantically

Then he turned and he looked at me

He said mama made Christmas good at our house

Though most years she just did without

Tell me Sir, what am I going to do,

Somehow I’ve got to buy her these Christmas shoes

So I laid the money down, I just had to help him out

And I’ll never forget the look on his face when he said

Mama’s gonna look so great

 

Sir, I want to buy these shoes for my mama, please

It’s Christmas Eve and these shoes are just her size

Could you hurry, sir, daddy says there’s not much time

You see she’s been sick for quite a while

And I know these shoes would make her smile

And I want her to look beautiful if mama meets Jesus tonight

 

I knew I’d caught a glimpse of heaven’s love

As he thanked me and ran out

I knew that God had sent that little boy

To remind me just what Christmas is all about

 

Sir, I want to buy these shoes for my mama, please

It’s Christmas Eve and these shoes are just her size

Could you hurry, sir, daddy says there’s not much time

You see she’s been sick for quite a while

And I know these shoes would make her smile

And I want her to look beautiful if mama meets Jesus tonight

 

Remember, there are those suffering right now more than any other time of year. They may not show it. They hide it, but they still hurt and need our love.

 

  1. Picture your world without

 

Often on a Christmas morning since the death of my father, I lay in bed before anyone is awake, and I think of all those that are close to me. I picture what my world would be like without them.

My grandmother is in her 80’s. I know she probably won’t live much longer. Each Christmas, she puts her tree up and decorates it. She places presents all around it. Every year, she always places a few gifts for those who no longer are here.  I asked my mom who Arlene was. My mom wasn’t the oldest child. She had an older sister named Arlene who died at the age of six. I have no doubt she does the same for her oldest son, Ben who died at the age of 44. She has no choice to picture her world without her loved ones. They have died.

For some odd reason picturing their loss reminds me of their worth and helps me appreciate them more. Imagine living your life taking those close to you for granted and only missing them after they pass away.  In the Christmas Carol, Scrooge doesn’t change until he sees he lost it all, and I’m not talking about money.

Picture a world without Christ. Every man is a sinner. Every man must pay for that sin by dying and going to hell. Without Christ, we would have a one-way ticket to hell with no chance for heaven at all. That thought makes me appreciate what Christ did for me more.

 

III. Be grateful for what you have

 

One Christmas, my mom got me two gifts I didn’t ask for: a CD and a book. I thought they were stupid. In fact I was talking to my cousin Susan about it when I thought she wasn’t listening. I said, “I bet she got this stuff for free.” She walked in. Tears flowed down her cheeks. I felt very small. I hurt her with my words. I hurt her with my ingratitude. From then on, I never complained about any gift again.

We have so much, but we keep our eyes on what everyone else has. You’ll never be happy with what you have until you stop looking at what others have. Christmas is a time of giving, not receiving, because God gave His only begotten Son. If you must focus on others, focus on those who are suffering right now. Open your heart to them and love them. Look at your own life and imagine your life without ____________.

Then you may find it easier to be grateful for what you have. You may find how to have a Merry Christmas.

 

  • George Feliu

 

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