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Christmas Countdown #10: Cancer Tried to Destroy Christmas at Our Church

December 20, 2014

The Messiah’s earthly ministry has started, and no doubt his parents were excited and proud.  I imagine Joseph would happily discuss with anyone the new freedoms and the great excitement brought about by Jesus.  Perhaps neighbors would wink at one another and nod in the direction of the talkative Joseph, hammering and sawing in his shop while loudly discussing the latest news about Jesus’ accomplishments.

However, we have no historical record of that ever happening.  We don’t read of Joseph’s conversations.

In fact, we don’t read anything about Joseph after the “lost child” incident in the second chapter of Luke.  Heading home from a trip to Jerusalem, Jesus was separated from His parents, who finally discovered Him in the temple in the 1fmidst of the leaders, instructors and PhDs of the day. Don’t you find it significant that right after Jesus announced that He was to be about His heavenly Father’s business that we never read of the earthly father Joseph again?

At some point in the narrative, death steps in.  Joseph – the head of the household – has gone, but the ministry of Jesus kept moving forward.


That’s a lot like our situation here in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.  The earthly head of our congregational household is gone, but we see the ministry of Jesus moving forward.

That’s not to say that this is easy.

We’re heading into our first Christmas holiday without our pastor Tom Craig who recently passed away from pancreatic cancer at the age of fifty-two.  From the time he was diagnosed with the terminal cancer to the time he left this earth wasn’t even four months.  It went screamingly fast.  Too fast.

Kim Craig is a widow.  Anna is fatherless.

Our hearts break for them.  We reach out as much as we can, sometimes confused if we are in danger of smothering them and yet fearful of being too distant.   We take careful steps.

Our congregation is still dealing with our loss, has held steady and has actually become stronger in many ways.  We’ve seen new families come and join our assembly.  Our Sunday and Wednesday night services have been taught by a rotating group of men who have taken very seriously their responsibility.  The children’s program has thrived.  The college and career class has stepped up and helped in ways that I’ve never seen a group of this age do before.  Numerous people are pulling more than their share.

The outward part seems to be going fine.  It’s the inner stuff we continually wrestle.  Tom’s memories.  His fellowship.  His leadership.  His example.

I remember a Father’s Day event, with Tom running outside, pulling off his coat and tie as the Sunday morning service’s songs were bringing the meeting to a close.  When we exited out the front door, Tom was personally cooking and handing out hot dogs as well as sliding RC Colas and hardware tool gifts toward us.

Then there was the Fall Festival where Tom took stage to play a toy violin, having no idea what he was doing but not caring in the least.  He would end up in two other skits, displaying his personal brand of humor that got us all cracked up.

I also recall a Christmas-season visit of our Bible class to a member’s home.  The gentleman suffered from a handicap, and Tom thought it a great idea to bring dozens of members over to sing and supply the older couple with groceries and other needs.  We packed the wraparound porch, surrounding the grinning couple, and enjoyed an evening of singing and testimonies.

That was Tom.  He was funny, gracious, caring, and filled with Jesus.

You can see why this holiday season will be hard for us.  It will be hard for his family.

But we bear in mind the greatest Christmas gift anyone could want.  It’s presented in the Bible book of First Thessalonians:

Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.

At the Nativity, people brought Jesus gifts, but ah, Jesus brought the single solitary gift that changed the world:  eternal life.

And from where he is, Tom has also brought us a gift this Christmas: the gift of hope.

This season is hard for us, but it also rings in something else much more powerful.  For our congregation, this hope will ring truer this Christmas than at any other time in our church history.  Tom is in Heaven.  Heaven!  For this we can rejoice, and scoff at the Enemy’s attempt to sour our holiday.  Cancer has not been able to intimidate us; it’s only drawn us more closely to the reality of Jesus and His salvation, especially at this time of the year.

I wonder if they have a special celebration in Heaven on the earthly Christmas Day?

If so, I imagine Tom will be the one who is either in the back of the room, grinning and handing out celestial foodstuffs, or else he’s happily volunteering to be in a skit.  He’s that kind of guy.







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