At Christmas we celebrate birth but always the celebrations entwine with death. Christmas is the dying of the year. Christmas is the celebration of a baby in a manger, and a prelude to the man on a cross. Christmas is itself a testimony that we need not fear death – one year dies, another will begin. The baby grows to a man who is crucified, but the cross and tomb are empty. Resurrection is coming! At the bedside of dying saints I am reminded of that coming resurrection again and again. What a privilege.
One of the privileges of being a pastor is watching people die.
That might seem a strange thing to say. We live in a culture which while parading any number of gruesome ways to die in its entertainment is remarkably shy about facing the reality. We have removed death from the home and placed it in the hands of professionals who can nurse us through our final moments and discreetly deal with our remains. Death is too disturbing for public view.
But as a pastor, I get to be by the bedsides of the dying, and a privilege it is.
A few weeks back I sat with Betty, having been told she was likely to die in a day or two. She keeps surprising us though and is still here. I went to pray for her, but she ended up praying more for me. Lying in her bed giving thanks to Jesus for all the blessings of a long life Betty expressed not a single regret and only excited hope for what lies ahead. Remarkable.
Then at Brian’s bedside, holding his hand and reading scripture as he laboured for breath. Just a few hours before his last laboured breath Brian was praying for his family and expressing trust in Jesus. He held my hand firmly, but his grip of Christ’s hand was firmer still.