I Am Coming Down: Mourning a Child While Waiting for Jesus
This will be our second Christmas without our son. Ruben was stillborn at 25 weeks and 6 days on March 19thof 2017. We buried him a couple days later. He had my nose.
Advent means “Jesus is coming!” In this season we, on this side of the cross, hope for Jesus’ final Coming on the last day by stepping into the stories of those who waited for Jesus’ first Coming. This Christmas, my wife and I are placing ourselves in the story of the Exodus.
A NATION OF DEAD SONS
Israel had been enslaved for over 400 years under the thumb of paranoid and powerful Pharaohs. Uncomfortable with his growing number of slaves, Pharaoh ordered the midwives to after-birth abort every male Hebrew, to ethnically cleanse them as they took their first breath. But the midwives rebelled.
Pharaoh realized that the medical professionals couldn’t be trusted. So he commanded all his people, the entire nation of Egypt, to commit genocide with him. Pharaoh’s Gestapo made sure everyone from politicians to stay-at-home moms complied. He ordered Hebrew sons thrown into the Nile River.
Israel cried out to God in their grief and oppression, and God answered.
“I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them…” (Exodus 3:7-8)
God sees. God hears. God knows and God is coming down. Advent is coming.
Moses needed proof, both for himself and a mourning Israel, so he asked for God’s name and for God’s signs.
Names carry a lot of meaning in the Bible. Names describe the essence of the people who carry them. So when Moses asked for God’s name, he was asking for a name that would convince a mourning nation that God really was coming, and for assurance that their hope will not be wasted.
In the Lord of the Rings there is this character called Treebeard. He’s an Ent – a living tree. Treebeard’s race lives for thousands of years. Their whole culture operates slowly and their entire language is long and drawn out. Two hobbits ask Treebeard for his name but he refuses, saying:
‘“…for one thing it would take a long while: my name is growing all the time, and I’ve lived a very long, long time; so my name is like a story. Real names tell you the story of things they belong to.” – J.R.R. Tolkien
This is what Moses is asking from God – the story of who he is, and what he will do. He’s asking for the name that takes a very long, long time to say and unlike Treebeard, God gives it.
’God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel “I am has sent me to you.” (Exodus 3:14)
His name is I am with you.
God heard the cry of his people, he saw their suffering, he knew their affliction… and he has come down to save them. He is with them. Advent has already come for Israel, but it was also not yet fulfilled.
Asking for more proof, Moses received three signs to demonstrate that God really had come. The first two were a staff turning to a snake and spontaneous leprosy. If those didn’t work, Moses was supposed to take a cup of water from the Nile, which when poured would become blood (4:8-9).
Moses ended up needing to perform all three. The people didn’t believe until they saw the water turning to blood. When they did… they worshipped (4:30-31). The water from the Nile turning to blood convinced Israel that God was with them and that God had come down. That Advent had and would come. But why was this final sign so convincing?
I think it’s because the water turning to blood made real their deepest pain.
Remember, Israel was a nation in the wake of genocide, a nation grieving. And the weapon used to massacre them was the Nile river. Thousands and thousands of brothers and sons drowned in the water. And if you were a slave in the desert nation of Egypt, where did you get your water?
You got it from the Nile. You got it from the same place your son was murdered. Mothers began each day drinking water from a mass grave, washing their living children in a literal blood bath. Clothes and dishes were cleaned in the blood of their sons.
The sign of turning water from the Nile into blood was convincing because it proved God knew. He was right there. He saw their pain. He heard their cries. He knew what was most painful and he was coming. The sign declared: “I have come down and I will come down!”
But even after God’s name and signs Moses still doubted that God being with him was enough.
“Oh my Lord, please send someone else.” (Exodus 4:13)
The name and the signs didn’t work. While God would give Moses Aaron, ultimately, there is only one someone who will convince our suffering hearts that God is with us.
His name is Jesus, or, as he’s called on his birthday, Emmanuel: God with us. In Jesus, Yahweh comes down. And like Yahweh he saw, heard, and knew the suffering of Israel. We’re told that Jesus sees, hears, knows, and experiences our pains and our sorrows.
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15)
God in Jesus didn’t just perform signs from heaven to show his sympathy, he became the sign himself. God became like his creation.
And all of the sudden, it’s not just the fathers and mothers of Israel who mourn the loss of their sons – God does too. All of the sudden, it’s not just my wife and I who’ve lost a son. Jesus, God’s firstborn, dies too.
God sees. God hears. God knows. Advent has come.
MY SON, MY SIGN, HIS NAME
Touring child cemeteries is death conquering your imagination. You replay and replay what’s already happened, as you imagine what lowering the casket will feel like. Nowhere seems good enough. I left even the nicest cemeteries speechless and sobbing, thinking “I can’t do this” and “He deserves better.”
When I finally chose one, I wasn’t done. I had to choose the plot. They slid a page of paper towards me, a map of the available spaces. Sixty little squares numbered 1-60. I had to point and say, “he will be buried in slot 27.” It broke me. My son’s life diminished to a paper square, a number and 3 square feet.
But God did the same.
No garden or city in the world was worthy of Jesus’ grave. Of all the cemeteries available to him he chose a little spot on a hillside in Israel. He placed his finger on history’s page and said, “he will be buried, there.” What a diminishment. The author of light buried in the dark.
But this is my sign. This is my water turning to blood. Jesus, like Ruben, was born to die.
God knows, Yahweh hears, Jesus sees, and Immanuel has come down.