Heroin Needles and Pine Needles--Empty Stocking and Empty Tomb

We just got our Christmas tree a few days ago, and already I'm picking up what feels like hundreds of pine needles off my living room floor. There seems to be no end to those tiny little daggers, and they apparently love nothing more than rising up into the fibers of my socks to stab at my feet. There is definitely a fake tree in my future! 

While I was gathering up this morning’s harvest of needles, the image of another needle came to my mind. The needle that killed my brother last Christmas.

My brother died of an accidental heroin overdose in the very late night hours of Christmas one year ago.

One year.

The milestone that feels more like a millstone tied right round your heart and even your throat. The mile marker you can’t see but most definitely can hear. It’s not a dream. It calls out. He’s really not ever coming through the door again.

I already know this, of course. But the one-year mark just reaches out and yanks the curtain back--thoughtlessly exposing any secret, deeply hidden hopes that maybe, just maybe, it's all been a joke or a dream. Maybe I’ll wake up, and he’ll be there saying, Gotcha! and grinning that big, room-filling grin.

But it’s not a dream. I know. And my brother’s stocking—if my parents can even bring themselves to hang it at all—will be empty this year. And every year.

And thinking about that empty stocking—once filled with candy and movie gift cards and cologne and shaving cream—could knock me over with life-smothering sorrow.

If that was the end of the story.

But it’s not.

And in a crazy sort of way, instead of knocking me over with sorrow, the thought of Joey’s empty stocking reminds me of something else that was empty…the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth.  And it actually inspires a hopeful and ever-more-solid resolve.

You see, that empty tomb—that beautiful, glorious empty tomb—says, It’s not a dream. Your brother might not ever come through that door again, but you will see him again. You will most definitely see him again. 

Now, I know there are people who don’t believe in heaven or God or miracles. All that faith stuff, they say, is for the weak minded or fools. No one with a brain falls for that. Maybe you even feel a little sorry at the thought of me truly believing this.

But this is what I wonder: How can anyone with a brain NOT believe it? 

The evidence is there. Yes, evidence. Objectively verifiable evidence. Not just the down-in-my-heart stuff (which is pretty great, too). But scholarly, falsifiable data.

The Apostle Paul was the first to dare everyone to look for it. In fact, He even says, Hey world. Investigate this resurrection. If it’s not true…you’re right. We’re all fools, and you have a right to pity us.[1] (my paraphrase, of course).

This one empty tomb is the one thread that if pulled and found lacking would single-handedly unravel the Christian faith altogether. Why would Paul be so forthcoming about something with that kind of destructive power if it wasn’t true? What would he possibly gain from making up stuff like this?

And for that matter, why would Paul care in the first place? He wasn’t a Christ follower before the crucifixion. He hated Christians. Even killed them. What would make him change his tune so dramatically? This is a complete 180!

Well, the Bible tells us why. The Bible records that Paul actually saw Jesus. After His resurrection. Alive…well…speaking.[2]

The Bible also records that Jesus appeared to over 500 eyewitnesses after He came out of the grave.[3]  Pretty lofty claims written during a time when many of those very eyewitnesses could have easily shouted, “Lies…every bit!” But they didn’t. There’s never been one contradictory record ever discovered. Because it wasn’t a lie. It was true.

And for those who don’t trust the biblical accounts (if this is you, I encourage you to read this article), here’s something incredible to think about. There is data that is so strongly attested to historically that it’s affirmed by nearly every scholar who studies the subject—including scholars who aren’t Christians and have nothing to prove. New Testament scholar Gary Habermas has deemed these, “the minimal facts.”[4] And he’s written an entire book on it complete with all the primary source data you’d care to see.

My heart is definitely tender this Christmas. In fact, it feels like tears are always at the ready, and sometimes it’s all I can do to make it to a private place where I can let them fall. And I know I need to.

But my tears aren’t bitter. They aren’t tears of hopelessness and despair. They are tears of missing and sadness mixed with victory, hope and faith.

For me and my family, Christmas will never be the same. It just won’t. But we still have so much to celebrate.

We celebrate that precious Baby Boy…born to die…and killed to rise. So those who choose to accept His loving and free gift can truly and always…live.

That’s the true Christmas miracle.  That’s the true end of the story.


[1] 1 Corinthians 15:16-19

[2] Acts 22

[3] 1 Corinthians 15:6

[4] Habermas, Gary and Licona, Michael, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. Kregel: Grand Rapids. 2004.