Dec22FriA reflection concerning the passing of Mary Bardeen Wilson (1916-2017) December 22, 2017
Every Christmas Eve the whole Wilson Clan gathers at Grandma’s house for our Christmas celebration. For forty one years I have never missed this special gathering. In fact, I don’t think that my brothers or cousins have ever missed a Christmas Eve at Grandma’s either. Our gathering has grown substantially over the years from grandparents, aunts and uncles (I was the first and most spoiled grandchild) to brothers and many cousins. Then over the years we started bringing girlfriends and finances’ with us to our Christmas Eve gathering, and now each year Grandma’s house is over run with a flood of great grand kids. We have special traditions like singing around the piano, Aunt Linda’s cinnamon rolls, and Dad’s singing elf and Santa hats. It is a very special time as we gather as a family, and celebrate Jesus’s birth.
This year, however, is going to be a little different, because for the first time, Grandma is not going to be there. You see on December 13th the Lord suddenly took her home to be with him. She was 101 years old, but still in good health, still living at home, and still blessing & spoiling us in so many ways. Her kitchen table always had cookies, crackers, and peanuts for anyone who came by to enjoy. Every time we came through her door, she would immediately drop what she was doing, and offer us something to eat or drink, and then take time to visit with us. I must have always looked hungry because Grandma was always feeding me (as well as everyone else who happened to come in), even if it meant giving us what she had fixed for herself for dinner.
It was much more than food though, that drew us to Grandma’s house. She always had a big smile for us, and I rarely heard her complain. I enjoyed her stories from the past, the Helen Steiner Rice quotes she saved, and the interesting guidepost articles she had set aside to share with us. Grandma was truly interested in what was going on in our lives, and she was a good listener. She always thought of us before herself; and that is the true definition of love. Grandma really loved us.
And I could also tell that Grandma loved God. I could tell by the way she loved the teaching of Reverend D. James Kennedy of Coral Ridge Ministries, when she would share parts of his messages with me. I could tell when she and I would sit and talk about heaven. But more than that, I could tell by the way I saw God reflected in Grandma’s heart. She had such a kind, gentle, and humble spirit. Why just this past Thanksgiving, when I asked her to tell all who had gathered, the stories she had told me of when she was growing up, she asked me to share the stories because she didn’t want to be the center of attention. Grandma was always patience with us, and she had such a giving heart.
Well this Christmas, Grandma will be celebrating with the most giving and loving heart of all- God! I truly believe that right now Grandma is having the time of her life, and that this will be her best Christmas yet. For Grandma, there are no longer any aches or pains; there is no more walking with a cane and worrying about falling. She is experiencing the joy of being reunited with family and friends she has not seen for half a century. She is seeing wonders beyond our imaginations. Revelation 21 speaks of streets of gold, walls of jasper, clear as crystal. And think of the hosts of angels she is seeing!
If in heaven they do a retelling of the Christmas story, Grandma could see and hear the actual angels who flew 2000 years ago in the Bethlehem skies, and actually hear them proclaim in their own voice the message recorded in Luke 2 of “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” And just think of the singing in heaven, when you join the hosts of angels with the multitudes of believers who now reside in heaven! Maybe Grandma will visit with one of the shepherds who actually received the angel’s tiding, and then went, saw baby Jesus and believed. (I wonder if Grandma will tell the shepherds that she faithfully mixed lamb milk for the past fifty years for Dad to feed lambs!). Maybe it will be the angel Gabriel who opens heaven’s retelling of the Christmas story; and the real Mary and the real Joseph can give their first-hand accounts of what the special night was like. Whether or not there is a Christmas celebration in heaven, I am confident that Grandma’s attention will be turned to the One whom everyone wanted to see that first Christmas night- Jesus! Of course he isn’t a baby now, and his appearance, if like in Johns description in Revelation 1 could be quite startling at first. Light emanating from God on the thrown will fill Heaven (Revelation 22:5), but I believe that once Grandma’s eyes adjusted to the light, that she saw on Jesus’s face a beaming smile, a face emanating love like no other. I can imagine Jesus calling “Mary!” and throwing his nail scared hands around her in a hug like she had never felt before.
You see, Grandma was made for God; to love Him and to be loved by Him; and so are we. Grandma was not meant to live forever on this dusty earth of decay and pain. Grandma’s true home is with God and she will be with Him in paradise from now until eternity. This Christmas, Grandma is finally, truly home.
But what about us? What about those us who mourn her departure, who miss her smile, who will be gathering for Christmas at her house without her this year? Well, Grandma might not be with us, but Jesus is. Though we cannot see and hold him like Grandma now can, Jesus is with those who believe in Him. He said “where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them (Matthew 18:20). We will be closest to Grandma, when we stay close to Jesus. He knows our pain of loss even when it is temporary, and his heart breaks for ours like it did when he wept with Mary and Martha before he raised Lazarus from the grave. We need to draw close to Jesus because he is our only true hope. At Lazarus’s grave side Jesus told Martha that “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” Then he asked Martha “Do you believe this?” Jesus is asking this very question to each of us this very day! If Grandma could speak from heaven right now, I am sure she would shout “Believe! Believe!”
Unfortunately, in this world we tend to be blind to what truly matters; to the spiritual reality that God exists; that every one of us has rebelled against Him; that without God’s forgiveness we are destined to an eternity in a place that is the opposite of heaven. Fortunately, we have an amazingly loving God, who came to earth that first Christmas as a gift to us. For Jesus gave his life on the cross to pay our sin penalty so that we could be declared righteous and adopted as God’s sons and daughters! Reconciliation with God, salvation and eternal life, do not come from doing good deeds; it is nothing that we earn. As Ephesians 2:8 says, “it is the gift of God,” Christ did all the work. In simple terms we find eternal life when we honestly admit to God that we have sinned; when we ask him for forgiveness and believe that he will save us. If you have trouble believing, just honestly ask Jesus to make himself real to you. He loves to answer this prayer, and you will find that even the faith you need to believe is a gift from God.Lastly, for those of us who do truly believe in Jesus, but still mourn Grandma’s departure, we need to look to Grandma’s example. Grandma lost many loved ones in her lifetime, but she did not wallow in grief, instead, she faithfully loved those whom God left behind with her. God warned us that this life would be filled with difficulty and pain (John 16:33), but in Christ we would find peace. We have to remember our purpose; and that is, as Jesus said in Matthew 22:37-39, to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” … and to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” It was not for Grandma’s benefit that God kept her out of heaven for so many years, it was for our benefit. Now is the time for us to extend grace and to forgive past grievances, to restore relationships, and to love like Grandma. And my prayer is that every one who reads this blog post, will someday join Grandma in her new home for Christmas!
Matt Gibson is an elder at Grace Baptist Church, certified ACBC counselor, husband of Stacie and father of 4.
Stacie Gibson is Matt's wife, a mother of 4, a busy homemaker and home-educator in addition to being a certified ACBC counselor. She is a guest blogger at Biblical Counseling for Women.
Barb Leaman is a children's Sunday School teacher and a teacher's aide for the Hornell Jr and Sr. High Schools. She is wife to Glenn and mother to an adult daughter.
Dave Theobald is the preaching and teaching elder at Grace Baptist Church. He is married to Jamie and has a son Job.
Rob Wilson is a deacon of Grace Baptist Church, a veterinarian specializing in large animals, a farmer, a husband to Kim, and father to 2 energetic young boys.
Ustad ("teacher," in local dialect) is a global partner of GBC, who shares stories and perspectives from the field, for our encouragement and to help orient us on things eternal.