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If we make it through December

By DAVID WHITLOCK

Life Matters

When I was in high school, toward the end of football season my senior year, one of my buddies, Chris Wray, and I would sing the first few lines of Merle Haggard’s then new song, “If We Make It Through December,” before practice. Trudging onto the cold, football field, with the Oklahoma wind sweeping down the plains, sometimes blowing snow flurries on us, we would croon, “If we make it through December/ Everything’s gonna be alright, I know/ It’s the coldest time of winter/And I shiver when I see the falling snow.”

That’s about as far as we got, because by then, coach would start blowing his whistle, the signal to huddle together on the field, and thereafter, “get after it.”

Good ol’ Merle helped us make it through the end of football season and December, that year.

It didn’t take long for life to get more complicated than making it through high school football practices in the frigid weather.

December can be cold in Kentucky, too. But for many, no matter where they may live, the rawness of this season comes in more ways than just the chilling temperature.

I’m not ready for chestnuts roasting over an open fire. Nor am I excited about looking out the window and proclaiming, “Here Comes Santa Claus.” And even though I’m a preacher and not supposed to admit it, I don’t feel like singing, “O Come All Ye Faithful,” either.

For years, I have prayed through Proverbs 3, and as I do, I intercede for each child of ours.

Early this morning, as I prayed through that Scripture, I did so with one less child to name in that prayer.

And a little later this same morning, I noticed my wife looking up at the top of a closet where she stores Christmas boxes. (She saves the good ones to reuse.) And on one of those boxes, up there a year now, she had written the name of our deceased son, Harrison. If she throws that box away, she will feel like she is discarding a memory; if she keeps it, the memory brings heartache.

Before anyone looks down their sanctimonious nose at people like me who feel something like I do, take a look at John, Jesus’ cousin, the one nicknamed, The Baptist, the one Jesus described as “the greatest born among women.”

Look at him, wasting away in prison, all because he had the audacity to reprimand King Herod for taking his brother’s wife for himself. And so, there John sits, wondering to himself, something like, “If it’s Christmas, that is, if the Christ has come, why am I in prison for being a witness to  him, the Light, the Messiah, who is supposed to, by definition of our expectations, free us from the bad guys in power and make everything right?” And we might add, “Isn’t that what Christmas is supposed to be, after all, a jolly, ho-ho time, when everything’s just all right, or at least close to it, if even for a while?

Aren’t you supposed to do that for us, Jesus?”

Now, John is not one to just sit there with no answer, so he sent messengers, his disciples, from his prison: “Go find Jesus and ask him if he’s the one, or should we look for another? Tell him I need to know.” (My paraphrase)

And Jesus sent the messengers back with his own message to John: “Go back to John and tell him what you have heard and seen – 5 the blind see, the lame walk, those with leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor.” (Matthew 11:4-5, NLT).

Okay, it would have been nice if Jesus had simply said, “Yes, I’m the One, now don’t you dare despair, I am the Messiah.”

But in typical rabbinical tradition, Jesus left the decision to follow him to John and his disciples, or to you, or me. Jesus didn’t slam dunk his way into their lives, nor does he to ours.

He leaves us in our own December, to make our choice about him and his kingdom.

Will I make it through December?

Jesus already did that for me.

When he went to the cross.

And came back.

Alive.

But believing that it’s so is still a matter of faith, isn’t it?

And so, it’s still December here.

Until…

Wait just a minute, I think I hear The Coach’s whistle blowing.

It’s time to get after it.

Whether I feel like it or not.