Editor's note: This devotion is part of the 2019 Buckner Advent Guide, containing devotions for each day of Advent on the themes of hope, peace, love and joy. Get your free instant download of the 2019 Buckner Advent Guide here.
“Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.” –1 Thessalonians 4:13 (NIV)
Advent may seem like an odd time to reflect on the grim topic of death. But for many who have lost loved ones, Christmas is almost certain to bring back painful memories. That’s just the nature of grief: It’s a cycle, one that especially comes around at the times when we want to be the most joyful.
That’s why Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians are so helpful. He says God’s people grieve, but not like people who have no hope. Both sides of that equation are absolutely true.
First, we do grieve. We feel the pain of not having our loved one with us anymore. That hurts and if you’re feeling sad because your loved one is gone, that’s OK. If it brings tears, go ahead and cry. There’s no shame in feeling loss and expressing it. There’s nothing wrong with you. You’re in grief.
Paul acknowledges that grief is real and it’s hard, yet not like those who have no hope. He’s referring to the hope found in Christ, the hope of the gospel. Christians live with hope because they have a vital relationship with God through the atoning work of Christ on their behalf. They know God is at work to bring about their highest good, even when circumstances hit them with the worst that life has to offer. God is for them, no matter what.
Imagine facing the loss of a loved one if you have no relationship with God. You’re all alone in the grief and must deal with it on your own, using your own frail resources. To experience grief without God is grim work indeed! Utterly soul-crushing.
By contrast, facing grief when you have God is still hard, but it’s doable because you have hope. You know God is for you and with you, even if you feel sad. You also know the pain will not have the final say. The baby who came at Christmas is the king who is coming again. When he does, he will do away with the enemy of death and wipe every tear from our eyes. The king brings us hope, and that hope changes everything about any and everything we face in life.
Bill Hendricks is president of The Giftedness Center, helping people make critical life and career decisions based on their giftedness. He is the author or co-author of 22 books and also serves as executive director for Christian Leadership at The Hendricks Center at Dallas Theological Seminary.