At Prince of Peace, my title is Director of Family Life. So, as we approach Christmas, I have been thinking about families. I have been thinking about absence and presence.
We have a family who lives down the street from us and has for nearly 30 years. I won’t get into all the things that have connected our families for even longer than that. Our kids and their kids grew up together, went to school together. I will just say that we are sure we have shared 30 Thanksgiving dinners together. My wife, our three daughters, sons-in-law, grandchildren--and their three children, their spouses, their grandchildren. In September, the husband, father, and grandfather, Fred, died suddenly.
A tradition in our family has been that at Christmas, Fred would walk down and take a picture of our whole family sitting out on the front steps. When Fred died, one of our grandchildren said, “Who will take our Christmas picture?” But that is all I will say about what Fred’s loss means to my family because we are so mindful of his family during these holidays and those to come.
It is sad to say but this Christmas is going to be remembered for absences. For many, it will be the absence of jobs and income. Maybe not enough money to “do” Christmas the way we would like. For many of us, there will be the absence of family and friends who are usually with us but will not be this year because they are taking COVID precautions. I feel sure that many healthcare professionals will be working at Christmas…more than usual. At Christmas, many people will be hospitalized, or ill at home with the virus. They will be absent. And, of course, most tragic of all, by Christmas, we will have lost more than 325,000 Americans to the coronavirus. They will be absent. That is heartbreaking and I don’t think we can – or should—turn our hearts and minds from that. Even in an ordinary year, when Christmas comes, we have many loved ones who have died during the year from all kinds of causes. They are absent. Perhaps we are estranged from family members. They are absent.
So, what about presence? We often talk about how our loved ones can really be present, even when absent. They are with us in spirit, we might say. This will be a year when that belief may be particularly important. We can say that to ourselves. We can say it to each other. We can say it to our children as a way of helping them with their grief. Our lost loved ones are always with us.
During Advent and at Christmas, we are mindful of the absence and presence of Jesus. I find it particularly beautiful that, during Advent, we are waiting for Jesus to come on Christmas Day. We wait for him to come, even though he already came. We remember a time when Jesus had not yet come to live among us, and then he came! He was absent and then he was present.
I was watching TV a few days ago and after a series of Christmas images, this message appeared on the screen: “Someday we will all be together again.” That simple statement had me in instant tears. It is a prayer for us and for our absent friends and family. It is a message, of course, that is part of our faith. We reflect on a day that we will be reunited with our lost loved ones and we will be in the presence of God. “Someday, we will all be together again.”