It was going to be a special Christmas. Everyone home. Everyone safe. But like the horrific vision from the ghost of Christmas Future, you see an empty chair. The chair was meant to be filled – filled with your loved one. Is the chair a high chair? Is the chair your grandparent’s recliner? Is the chair your spouse’s usual seat at dinner? Or is the chair your wayward child’s dust-covered stool in the kitchen?
So many people this time of year reflect on the “First Christmas” when God came into the world as a small baby. But how many will think upon the “34th Christmas” this holiday season? The Christmas when all the world was quite different. Everything, if anything, we know about the 34th Christmas is based on scholars’ speculation. One thing we know for certain is that this Christmas had an empty chair as well.
This was the first Christmas Mary would have without her Son, Jesus Christ. This, to her, was what should have been Jesus’ 34th birthday. She fed, bandaged, loved, and raised the Son of God for 33 years. When the time had come, He placed the sins of the world upon His sturdy shoulders, died on a manmade structure, rose back to life three days later, having conquered death, and then ascended home to heaven. What a sin-shattering, yet divinely restorative year it had been for the world!
Can you picture Mary on the morning of the 34th Christmas? While I’m sure she was sorrowful for Christ’s physical absence, Mary had something more to cherish than the earthly satisfaction of a full house. She had the spiritually reconciling gift of a full heart. Not only did she have forgiveness of sins, but Luke 2:19 tells us that from the time Christ was born she held the treasures of her experiences inside her heart.
If in this past year, you’ve dealt with the loss of a loved one and mourn as Christmas time approaches, I’d like to guide your grieving heart back to Christ. Identify with Mary in her song, her pain, and her efforts.
First, we see Mary as a young woman in Luke 1:46-55, singing to the Lord. She is found worshipping God as the Promise Keeper before Christ was even born. Mary knew God had made promises to her people and had never failed to uphold and honor those promises. Likewise, find joy in God’s promises to you. As you face a holiday without your loved one, rest in the promise-keeping heart of the Father. One of my favorite worship songs states, “You’ve never failed, and You won’t start now.”
Second, Mary understood pain in its entirety. She expected pain and very likely thought of that foreboding pain ever since Luke 2:33-35. In this passage Mary and Joseph were at the temple with the newborn Jesus when a “righteous and devout man called Simeon” approached them. Simeon prophesied about the Messiah as he took Jesus into his arms. Joseph and Mary marveled at this, and moments later Simeon speaks to Mary directly. Simeon tells Mary of the pain to come, not only for her Son but also for her, “…A sword will pierce your own soul too”. For nearly 33 years she knew in her heart that her Son would suffer greatly. She couldn’t stop His pain and to her ultimate sorrow, she knew her sin caused her Son the pain. Mary knows pain.
Lastly, you can identify with Mary in her efforts. She knew God to be sovereign and continued to thrive. After Christ had made His final exit as He ascended into heaven, in Acts 1:14 we see Mary with the disciples, continuing to pray and serve. She understood that, while there was a time to grieve, there was likely a time to grow soon after. She chose to be spurred by the Spirit rather than stopped by the sorrow.
Every empty chair has divine reasoning. Jesus, Son of God and physical son of the Virgin Mary, says in Matthew 5:4, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”
Dear Mourner, Christ left an empty chair at His mother’s home on the 34th Christmas. He left many things empty that year such as a cross and a grave! Rejoice in your salvation this Christmas! Rejoice that while you mourn over an empty chair, Christ has filled your heart to the brim with His love.