The Apostle Paul wrote, “O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55). Anyone grieving the death of someone they love deeply will say that “sting” hardly begins to describe the pain.
And Christmas often heightens this pain. Certain decorations recall hands we will never hold again. Gatherings make visible precious absences. Sweet voices now stilled echo in our memories as we sing or share stories.
But this is not a bad thing. Christmas is actually a very good time for grief. Because sorrow has a way of disbursing fantasy nonsense and pointing us to what the birth of Jesus was all about: death’s destruction (1 Corinthians 15:26).
The sting Paul is talking about is not grief. He knows “sorrow upon sorrow” (Philippians 2:27). He is talking about something far worse: condemnation.
“The sting of death is sin” (1 Corinthians 15:56) because “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). And physical death hardly begins to describe this death. Like all of us, Paul would have preferred to not die physically (2 Corinthians 5:4). But he knew he would (2 Timothy 4:6). The death Paul spent his life trying to save people from was spiritual death.
Paul’s main concern was the “wrath and fury” (Romans 2:8) people would experience if they stood before the “judgment seat of God” (Romans 14:10) still in their sins (1 Corinthians 15:16-20). He believed the worst possible thing a human being can experience is to be “accursed and cut off from Christ” (Romans 9:2). He believed Jesus, who said,
do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28)
This is the main issue in life. We must be reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:20) and have our sentence of hell cancelled (Colossians 2:14). And the only way to do that is to receive the free gift of God, which is the forgiveness of sins and eternal life through his Son, Jesus (Romans 6:23).
That’s why Jesus came. His whole purpose for being born was to die,
that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. (Hebrews 2:14–15)
But not just to die. Jesus was born to be raised from the dead (Revelation 1:18). He is the Resurrection and the Life and whoever believes in him “though he die yet shall he live” (John 11:25).
When Jesus was born in Bethlehem it was the dawn of death’s destruction. It made possible the fast-approaching time when,
He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. (Isaiah 25:8)
If you’re feeling grief this Christmas, then know that what you’re experiencing is very much a part of Christmas. Jesus came to deal with your grief. Hear with fresh ears the angel’s gospel: that Jesus came to save us from our sins (Matthew 1:21). And if sin is removed, death’s days are numbered and your numbered tears (Psalm 56:8) will be wiped away.
May the Resurrection and the Life infuse your Christmas grief with hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13).