“Then the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.’” (Luke 2:10-11)
My husband and I just came back from West Virginia where we attended the funeral for his late uncle…and where we experienced the light and peace of Christmas in a remarkable way.
A funeral at Christmastime often casts darkness over the joy of the season, especially for the loved ones. But Uncle Billy’s funeral was different, special. A World War II veteran who served in the South Pacific, Billy had departed from a “life well-lived” at age 97 to enter the arms of Jesus.
His family and friends filled the church and reminisced about Billy’s extraordinary work ethic. Stories abounded on how he built up the family dairy farm, wearing down tools and grandson helpers with his boundless determination and energy—even crawling from post to post for fence repair after his legs gave out on him.
What really stood out, however, were the stories of his compassion and faith. As a Marine, Billy survived a grueling battle on Saipan Island. In the ceasefire afterward, he heard a young native girl crying. Billy turned to find her emerging from a cave, weeping at the horrors of the bloodshed. He gathered her up in his arms and fed her his rations to comfort her before having to press on with his platoon toward the next engagement.
Also, Billy and his wife of 74 years, Mary Lou, essentially raised nine children—four of their own, plus his sister-in-law’s five—while faithfully serving his Lord Jesus at church and at home. He was described as a loving father, a joy to his children.
Following the poignant worship service, our entourage moved to the cemetery where a gloomy downpour of rain matched the sadness of sending his body to its final rest.
We didn’t leave, though, when the graveside service ended. Instead, we gathered a short distance from the funeral tent…to watch as a dozen or more solid-white doves were released from cages into the sky.
The birds gathered together in midair flight just as a shaft of sunlight burst through a crack in the dark clouds—illuminating these angel-like figures as they circled the cemetery and headed off in the distance toward their dovecote.
It was an awe-inspiring moment as we witnessed symbols of the newfound freedom Uncle Billy is enjoying in heaven. The unexpected sunbeam spoke of God’s presence, much as if He were saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
On our way home, I reflected on this funeral’s relevance to our Advent season. The people of Israel lived in dark silence for nearly 400 years between the prophecies of the Old Testament and the arrival of Jesus Christ. They waited in a cloud of sorrow, fearful for their fallen nation and the continued persecution.
When Jesus was born, all of the heavenly hosts proclaimed His glory to a group of shepherds on a hillside. The Light of the World had finally arrived, and “death’s dark shadows” were put to flight. The angel announcement told them that He would be their Savior.
While we prepare for Christmas Day through the season of Advent, it’s easy for us to be either caught up in careless observance of “holly jolly” traditions or find ourselves cocooned in the darkness of mournful days. Instead, we need to focus on the person of Jesus Christ—dwelling in the knowledge and hope that He is the Lord and Master now of our world…that He will save His people from their sins.
Our real preparation for Christmas is making room in our hearts for His triumphant arrival, watching for the illuminated wings of angels and listening for their “alleluia” song. The King of Kings is coming. Are you ready to celebrate Him? Do you anticipate His appearance with genuine hope? Will you trust in Him for your salvation as Uncle Billy did?
My prayer this week—for myself and for you, friend—is that we will look beyond all the gold and glitter, beyond the shadows of darkened days, to anticipate the salvation Christ is bringing us. May God our Father give you a quiet hope and joy this Advent season and make us ready to join hands in wonder and awe…that the Creator of all things would restore our hearts and secure them for His kingdom.
On Christmas night all Christians sing to hear what news those angels bring;
News of great joy, news of great mirth, news of our Saviour King’s own birth.
Then why should men on earth be so sad since our Redeemer made us glad,
When from sin He set us free all for to gain our liberty.
Then out of darkness we see light, which makes all angels to sing this night
Glory to God and peace to men both now and evermore. Amen.*
King Jesus—Emmanuel, Wonderful Counselor, Almighty God, Prince of Peace—prepare our hearts to welcome You into our homes this Advent season. Remove the shadows that obscure our vision of Your glory. Center our thoughts and emotions on Your kingly presence in our lives, and call us to shine Your light upon those who need to hear good news of great joy. In Your powerful name, Amen.
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© Copyright 2022 Nancy C. Williams, Lightbourne Creative (text and photography)
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
*The Sussex Carol, first published in the 17th century by Irish Bishop Luke Wadding. Cecil Sharp version. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sussex_Carol