• Advent 2012.  I frequently requested an early advent date for my column so I could invite readers to our Candlelight service for grieving parents. I know with previous attenders, word-of-mouth, advertising and my columns that many know about this service. And those who attend find it moving and meaningful. But it is always sparsely attended. Those of us who have not lost a child can scarcely imagine how hard it can be to publicly light a candle and remember.

One of my best friends finally told me how it happened. It was Christmas morning. His children had just rummaged through their stockings and were eagerly waiting to open presents. The phone rang. “Who in the world would be calling right now?” he thought to himself.

“Can you answer that, honey?” his wife yelled from the kitchen.

After saying “Hello,” he heard these angry words:

“Your wife slept with my husband…” The rest of the conversation was a blur.

His life, and the lives of his children, were forever changed. He describes the effort of ‘holding it together’ for the remainder of Christmas morning as “the hardest thing I’ve ever done.” To this day, when asked about Christmas he says “I ******* hate Christmas.” I can understand why.

We love Christmas at the Sheely house. But I can never forget those that have a different experience this time of year. In the maelstrom of shopping, parties, ostentatiously decorated homes, and dazzling television people begging us to buy dazzling gifts there are many who do not go along for the ride. These days Facebook and Pinterest, with everyone showing us a glimpse of their perfect Christmas, don’t help either. The fact is, many people, like my friend, quietly, even painfully, wait for Christmas to be over.

Actually, God understands this. Hidden within the Bible’s Christmas stories – among glittering angels, rejoicing shepherds and gilded magi – are somber reminders that even life’s signature moments aren’t perfect. I’m talking about forced taxation, threats of divorce and the slaughter of a townful of toddling little boys. The Christmas story, in it’s entirety, is not all tinsel and gingerbread.

On Sunday, December 9th at 7:00, my church is hosting our sixth annual Candlelight Service for those who have lost a child. It is a poignant and affirming service. Many of these parents, especially those whose child died on or around Christmas, find this time of year extremely difficult. But the stories of Christ’s birth offer a glimmer of hope. Not that God will always protect us from sadness, but He knows that pain and hope can co-exist.

I hope you have a merry Christmas. But you don’t have to. The power of Christmas is that no matter what awful things life has brought you, there is always that hay-covered baby. A baby who reminds us that beneath all the tears, unfairness and world-shattering phone calls, there will always be love and life and wholeness.