For 20 years, I received a Christmas necktie from my friend Ned.
Ned Carpenter married a cousin who was also a Carpenter. She and her husband never had children. Ned did not drive. She sat on the back row of the church on the far right hand side. Ned taught Sunday school and for the five years I was her pastor, never missed a church service.
Ned was plain spoken. If the sermon was good she would tell me that. If the sermon was terrible she would say, “You didn’t pray enough this week.” If you were ever sick or had an issue and needed help, the first call was often to Ned with a request for her to pray. I wanted Ned praying for me as much as she would. I was certain that God would not have the temerity to turn down Ned’s prayerful petitions.
Ned died last fall. She was well into her 90’s when she passed. She was still full of love mixed with impressive amounts of vim and vinegar. (You were expecting vigor to go with vim, but Ned had vinegar!) Just before her funeral, her family gave me one last gift from Ned. It was my annual Christmas necktie. Even though it was too soon, I changed ties and preached Ned’s funeral wearing a Christmas tie.
I was reminded of that Friday night. We attended a Christmas Party in Bossier City given by the bank. Since my bride is one of the officers of the bank, her attendance was mandatory, as was mine. I went to the closet looking for a tie. I’ll admit that the majority of my neckties are Christmas ties. All of them came from Ned. I’ll also confess to wearing a Christmas tie in July at a funeral. I had a robe on so no one knew but me and now you!
I found the “last tie” and wore it to the Christmas party.
I miss Ned. She would send me the Christmas tie and I would write her a thank you note sometimes poking fun at her for “still being here.” I did ask her to please keep talking to Jesus for me, even when she got to heaven. She said she would. She lived as a disciple of Jesus and a faithful witness to His presence in her life. She died a good death. Ned is in heaven with Jesus.
I miss her. I missed not having that envelop to open and a new tie to admire.
Many congregations are offering Longest Night or Blue Christmas services. These are church services that acknowledge sadness, grief and loss especially at this time of year. It does hit hard at Christmas.
If you are grieving and sad, I recommend one of these services as something that might be helpful for you.
And if you are on top of the world, maybe you should attend a service too. Perhaps the greatest gift you could give would be to walk in church and sit with someone you know is struggling. You don’t need to say anything; being there for them speaks volumes. It is hard for many who don’t have the “Christmas spirit” because their loss is overwhelming.
Christmas is not about perfection. It is not about recreating a mythical Norman Rockwell family event. It is not even about the gifts. Christmas should remind us that God came down to us. He jumped, with both feet, into the mess that is humanity. Don’t clean up the crap on stable floor, because that is the environment that welcomed the Creator of the Cosmos.
The mess is the message of Christmas, even the messy part of grieving at this time of year.