....but there I was, not with gentle tears running down my face but great body-wracking sobs as I stood in the kitchen preparing the vegetables for tomorrow's feast. I was listening to the live broadcast of the service of Nine Lessons and Carols from Kings College Cambridge, something I did nearly every year with my mum. She died 3 1/2 years ago, but the grief hit me this morning with a force that surprised me, and so, as a boy soprano sang the glorious opening to 'Once in Royal David's City' I put down my brussel sprouts and allowed myself to grieve again.
In Luke 1, Zechariah said 'In the tender compassion of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.'
I used to think that the 'Shadow of Death' was a particular place or season of life, but now it feels like the shadow of death is always there with me, that grief is a thread that runs through my life, and at this time of year that is especially difficult. The songs of Christmas tell of 'the most wonderful time of the year' and a 'holly jolly Christmas'. There doesn't seem a lot of room for 'the shadow of death' amid the lights of Christmas.
But that first Christmas was fraught with shadows. Mary and Joseph, young, pregnant and without a place to give birth. A country occupied by a foreign army, a King slaughtering innocent babies all amid prophecies of conflict and pain...
...and so, I go to church and sit in the darkness waiting for the magic of Christmas to somehow touch my life. And it does. Not in an 'ignore your pain and put on a happy face kind of way', but in the realization that the tender compassion of our God will shine a light in the midst of the the shadows of death, that it's ok to attend to the shadows because by God's grace I will not be overwhelmed.