While the holidays are a time for cheer and celebration with loved ones, they can also be a painful reminder of the loved ones who are no longer with us.
While the holidays are a time for cheer and celebration with loved ones, they can also be a painful reminder of the loved ones who are no longer with us. In today’s blog I will be going over why it’s necessary for pastors to preach a message of hope during a time of grieving for many.
The holidays are a season of nostalgia.
For a lot of us, the holidays are some of the earliest memories we have of family gatherings, emphasizing the importance of being together and sharing family traditions.
According to grief & loss expert, David Kessler:
“But since holidays are for being with those we love the most, how on earth can anyone be expected to cope with them when a loved one has died? For many people, this is the hardest part of grieving, when we miss our loved ones even more than usual. How can we celebrate togetherness when there is none?”
My dad passed away two weeks prior to my first semester of junior year, about three months before Christmas and there were, of course, plenty of emotional days of grieving. Although by the time the semester began and my family members had returned to work after some weeks of bereavement, there was a weird feeling of having to move on fast and focus on personal responsibilities.
While there were hard nights of studying with the presence of grief, it was easier not to notice the absence of a family member among the distractions of life. That is until the holidays hit: you find yourself with time off, immediate and extended family joining together in one place, preparing large meals, buying gifts, picking out Christmas trees, decorating, watching specific movies. With family, you start to look back on past holidays together and remember what it was like as children, then teens, now adults, and who came and went during those times.
In 2021, a national organization for children of grief, known as Experience Camps, conducted a survey of over 2,000 U.S. adult participants on the topic of holiday grieving.
According to that survey:
Understandably, at a time of making new memories and reminiscing on old ones with family, it’s clear that grief can be a common feeling during the holidays –– so much so that a third of Americans would rather not celebrate.
My dad passed away just two days after his birthday. While most of my family got to celebrate my dad’s birthday in his hospital room, my sister-in-law had gone into labor with her and my brother’s third child. The day after my dad’s birthday, my brother and sister-in-law had stayed home with their newborn daughter to recover and spend time together.
My dad’s health began to show a sharp decline the following day. Moments before my father’s passing, my brother and sister-in-law showed up with my new niece, placing her in the arms of my father and introducing them. In the midst of death, the whole family was met with a new member.
During a time where it’s easy to realize loss, the holidays are also an opportune season for counting blessings, planning for new beginnings and being reminded of the hope that Christ brings. While there’s not always a direct gain to loss, the Bible shows us time and time again to find joy in the suffering; whether it’s Jame’s call to “count it all joy” when faced with “trials of various kinds'' as it produces stronger faith (James 1:2-3), Paul’s praises to God as “the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort” who “comforts us in all our troubles” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4), and of course, as a reminder of the Christmas season, the birth of the messiah.
When sharing the Good News of the Newborn King, it’s important for pastors to keep in mind those who may be experiencing grief, acknowledging that experience, and being able to allow those who are grieving to be reminded of the hope that the nativity brings.
While grieving isn’t easy to overcome, it helps to be reminded of the goodness of God and the establishment of His Kingdom on earth; all the ways in which Jesus came to restore what’s been broken.
There can be a lot to say during the holiday season, especially around the Nativity. Popular themes weave between the faith Joseph and Mary had in fleeing from Herod and birthing the messiah, the fulfillment of old testament prophecies, the salvation Jesus brings to humanity, and the list goes on.
Attempting to acknowledge God’s peace in a time of grief while also staying relevant to holiday messages, as well as relating to the congregation as a whole can be a balancing act.
With the help of sermon preparation applications, pastors can have a more streamlined way of generating a sermon outline that works for the message, getting quicker access to relevant scripture, developing deeper character studies, and even coming up with modern day examples that help the congregation contextualize the scripture.
In spite of characteristically being a time of joy, many people may understandably be experiencing a sense of loss during the holidays. While I’ve experienced holiday grief myself, along with many other surveyed Americans, pastors have a powerful opportunity: remind those who are grieving this season of Jesus’s love and the hope that He brings.