Christmas is supposed to be a time of love and sharing, families coming together to exchange gifts, eat meals, speak of holidays past. The Christmas season is one of joy as Christians celebrate the birth of their savior. Families will attend church services even if they don’t do it during the rest of the year. They will fill pews, raising their voices together in praise of God, Jesus, and the miracle of his birth.
There will be empty chairs at two tables this Christmas. There will be two families that look at those empty chairs with loss, anger, sorrow, and questions. In Ferguson, Missouri the family of Michael Brown will miss his laughter, his smiles, the traditions they shared with him lost in the folds of their grief. Neighbors may come and bring food, or express their sympathy. Some will speak of vengeance in angry raised voices. Others will speak of God’s saving grace. Perhaps the family will attend a church service and Michael’s name will be mentioned. But on Christmas morning when other families are opening presents and children are squealing with delight it is highly unlikely anyone will be thinking of Michael Brown. Only his family will at that moment feel the inconsolable ache of the empty chair.
Hundreds of miles away in Staten Island, New York another family will be experiencing similar grief. I say similar because each of us feels grief in our own unique way. But it will be grief none-the-less. A mother will weep for a lost child, Eric Garner. The empty chair will sit beside the tree, at the dinner table; there will be the empty spot in the pew at church. As voice rise in praising song the question why will be in the minds of those families. They will wonder why Eric,their child, brother, cousin, father is not there. They may question a God who allows violent death to happen. They may curse those they hold responsible for their loss. While others may feel sorry for their loss they cannot know the deep grief that tears through their hearts when they look at those empty chairs.
I am not debating what was right or wrong, who was responsible or who was not, whether justice was served or not. In the end what matters is the pain and loss these families will feel. What matters is the empty chairs that will never be filled again. For whether these men did right or wrong, whether they were good men or not, whether they were guilty or innocent of some wrong doing is not the issue. On Christmas Day what will matter is that they are not here with their loved ones. For that we should all offer a prayer for them to find some peace.