Gilland: Hug those necks a little more tightly

To borrow a line from the Andy Williams classic, we have just come through “the most wonderful time of the year.” This amazing annual event is celebrated around the world, honoring the first advent of Jesus as He came in humble birth to a virgin girl, wrapped in swaddling clothes and placed in a manger.

His birth is the real reason we celebrate, but there is also that aspect of Christmas that brings our families together, sharing not only gifts with one another, but more importantly spending time with each other. Meals around the table, children’s eyes wide open in wonder at the Christmas tree and lights (and presents underneath). It is truly a remarkable event, and I pray that we never lose that Christmas excitement.

It was only last week that I wrote about how my wife and I have been looking forward to these wonderful family times this year, after we were quarantined last year with COVID-19. As always, none of us really know just what the next few days will bring. And that has never been truer for us than this year.

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My phone rang in the wee hour of 3 a.m. on Christmas Eve, as my daughter shared the news that her father-in-law had suffered what the doctors called a “catastrophic aneurism.” He passed away a few hours later.

This man was greatly loved, not only by our family but by our entire church, and anyone else that had ever met him. He was an amazingly loving man, generous of heart, funny, sincere, wise and a hard worker.

For many years, he worked at our church as the facilities manager and led a team of young volunteers who just adored him. He was not only my daughter’s father-in-law, but he was a dear friend to me.

One of the thoughts that came to my mind as we processed this sad news was the message that the Apostle Paul gave to us in Philippians 1:21: “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

My friend’s passing on Christmas Eve is a great loss for us, but for him, it was the greatest gain imaginable. His Christmas gift was to be free from the pain and suffering that he had endured, and to be able to experience first hand what David described in Psalm 27:4:

“One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.”—Psalm 27:4

My friend’s heavenly view at this very moment is grander than I can begin to comprehend. His home-going definitely changed our 2021 Christmas experience. But it brought to us a clear reminder that we need to love each other more intently, to hug our loved one’s necks more tightly, and to thank God for the precious moments that each family gathering affords.

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