I'll Be Home For Christmas
Dear Family and Friends: When Death calls, it never is "easy," not even when your loved one is aged, ailing, and longing to be released from this life. And when Death arrives at Christmas time, there is a special tinge of sadness to it. In fact, the season can take on a greyness that will reoccur each year. From this, our Lord would like to spare you.
God has a Word for you today on the occasion of the loss of your mother, grandmother, aunt, and friend whereby He would help you to put this loss in His perspective. That Word is the same one that I took to Miss Nell on December 2. Two other times I had brought a Word to Miss Nell, but this was the only time she said, "That was beautiful." The Word I brought to her was an Advent Word. I read from Isaiah where the prophet longs for the Lord to tear the heavens open and come down.
I pointed out to Miss Nell that she, being up in years, must have lost many loved ones, and not only that, she now was weak and sick. Didn't she long for the Lord to come and set everything right like Isaiah did. "Oh, yes," she said. Well, I assured her that one day her Lord would do just that. But right now He came to her in bread and wine giving to her His Body and Blood as a pledge and token that He would return one day and set things right for her.
Dear family and friends, get to where Miss Nell was. See that things will not really be all right till the Lord comes. Even if your mother, grandmother, aunt, and loved one had miraculously been healed of failing kidneys, things would still not be right. Even if we could turn back the clock many years to where Nell was vibrant and strong and devoted to caring for her family, even then things still wouldn't be right. Had Miss Nell been cured of kidney disease there were a dozen other diseases waiting to pounce. Had she been made young again it would have only been a matter of time that moves too fast, before she was old and grey once more. No, only God can set things right in a world where sin, sickness and death seem to rule.
This is what the prophet Isaiah was longing for, for God to tear open the heavens, come down here and set things right. That's what Christmas is all about. Our God tore open the heavens and stepped into our flesh and blood. Jesus did that some 2,000 years ago. Some 51 years ago Jesus applied His victory over sin and death to Nell in Holy Baptism. Over 51 years ago Jesus marked Nell with the sign of the Holy Cross both upon the forehead and upon the heart indicating she had been redeemed by Christ the crucified. She was His child.
Just like you keep track of your children, the Lord kept track of His. He didn't leave her or forsake her as she raised her children, lived her life, lost a husband, enjoyed her grandchildren, and grew ever older. All the time that the Good Shepherd was shepherding her it was to do one thing: to bring her all the way through the valley of the shadow of death. His purpose was not to give her a life without pain, tears, loss and suffering. His purpose was to bring her through these things safely home to His eternal mansions.
But don't get the idea that the Good Shepherd shepherded Miss Nell from a distance, from far away in heaven. Oh, no He was right there with Nell. He put His Word of comfort and consolation into her ears each Sunday. He was never farther away from her than her Baptism. More than that for the last 51 years He has come to her repeatedly in the Holy Communion forgiving her sins, keeping her in the true faith. Again and again and again the Lord Jesus came to Miss Nell gently leading her heavenward. Oh sure, some times it seemed like He was taking her the long way home, but sheep can only follow the Good Shepherd's leading. Children can only go the way their Father takes them. And you know children; it always seems to them that they will NEVER get there.
But get there Miss Nell did. At last on Saturday, she forded the river of death. Don't worry if you weren't able to be there. The Good Shepherd has never trusted us mere mortals to get His sheep cross over to the other side. No, Scripture tells us only His angels do that most important task. And so they were there fluttering around her bed. When Jesus said, "It's time," they gently carried Miss Nell across the river of death. And what did she find waiting on the other side? Strangers? Not hardly. There before her eyes were all her loved ones who had died in Christ before her. Here were the people before whose coffins she had stood weeping. At long last the promise her Jesus had made to her was fulfilled. She had sown the bodies of her loved ones in tears, now she reaped in joy inexpressible.
Things are set right for Miss Nell now, but all we have before us is a deceased mother, grandmother, aunt and friend who loved us. Now, we are sowing in tears and it doesn't look like we will ever reap in joy, does it? What we see belies what we believe, doesn't it? We believe there is life everlasting here when all we see or feel is death. We believe there is a beginning here when all we can see is the end of another generation. This is how Miss Nell lived year to year as she got older, sicker and lost more loved ones. But faith's dimly burning wick was not quenched by what she saw. It was nourished by her Jesus that she didn't see. He'll do the same for you too.
Throughout Miss Nell's life she had five pastors who were always pointing to one thing and saying another. They pointed her to the waters of Baptism and said it wasn't just simple water only but water connected to God's Word and so it was a Water that forgave sins and gave salvation. They pointed to ordinary sounding Words, and said these Words, being God's, forgive, comfort, and sustain souls. These five pastors all took ordinary looking bread and wine and said, wonder of wonders, "Take eat, take drink this is Christ's body, this is His blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins." And Miss Nell gladly ate and drank and had what they say; namely, she had the forgiveness of sins. And where there is forgiveness of sins there is also life and salvation.
Miss Nell lived from these words, lived from these gifts of God, and now she has died safe in them. Now she is at the home where the Lord always intended to bring her. It is sad to lose a love one at Christmas, but it is good to go home at Christmas. Miss Nell went to the home she always longed for. The loving home she had with her family was only a shadow of her real home in heaven. No matter how good things could be here on this side of heaven nothing here could satisfy her longing for there.
And don't you be satisfied with here either. Don't think that life, health, or family here could take the place of what God in Christ has in store for you there. No, there should always be a longing, an aching for the things Christ brings with Him when He comes, because only when He comes for us, or for all will these graves we dig be places of resurrection, only then will these tears we sow be shouts of joy.
Dear friends, let the Advent season year to year remind you of the joy that is waiting for you when you are at last really home for Christmas. Then you will once again see your mom, grandmom, aunt and friend. Death has paid you a visit at Christmas, but it's not here to stay. Miss Nell, however, does stay safe, secure, and satisfied in heaven. While THIS Christmas of yours will be tinged by sadness, find comfort that Miss Nell's is most certainly not. She will celebrate Christmas as only those in heaven can. The beauty she saw from afar on December 2nd, she now sees face to face. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin Texas
Funeral Service for Nell Rose Smith
Was born February 28, 1913 to Wiley Delley Sauls and Lucinda Mae Gentry of Waco Texas. She was married to Mansel Watt Smith December 24, 1931. He proceeded her in death on February 23, 1971. She was baptized at Trinity Lutheran Church January 18, 1948. She was confirmed in the Lutheran Faith on February 8, 1948. She was a loving mother and grandmother devoting her life to caring for her family. She died Saturday, December 11, 1999 after a lengthy illness, age 86 years. She is survived by her daughters Barbara Kinnie, Virginia Moerbe, and husband Bob. Grandchildren Scott Boutwell, Randy Boutwell, and wife Denise. Brad Boutwell, Sharon Trimble and husband Russell, Jeff Moerbe and wife Erika; great-grandchildren, Amanda, Jessica and Samantha; as well as numerous nieces and nephews.
Interment will be at Austin Memorial Park immediately following the service.