Summary: Even at Christmas we need Easter! Using the true story of a little girl who died on Christmas morning, this sermon points out that there are times when the darkness in life requires a light that is brighter than the Christmas message alone.
A little girl touched our lives this Christmas. The last eight days of her brief life moved us away from our materialistic Christmas selfishness and turned our attention to someone in need. She reminded us of something all too often forgotten in our typical expressions of Christmas gift-giving, she reminded us of compassion, empathy---genuine love!
Her name was Delaney Brown, nicknamed Laney. She lived in Wyomissing with her family. Most of us never met the 8-year-old girl, but in her last 8 days of life, we came to know enough about her to fall in love, and our hearts broke for her.
My wife, among many others across the nation followed the posts by her mother, Jennifer, on the Team Laney Facebook page. Her family and friends had been there for her since she was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia in May. The attention and following spread rapidly after her mother posted the devastating news on Dec. 17 that there was nothing more the doctors at the Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital could do for Laney and that the family was taking her home.
Jennifer's written words were a heart-wrenching mixture of pain and love, a beautiful tribute to her precious child:
"Today we were told the worst news of our lives. Laney has 70% cancer cells in her blood. If they would treat the cancer the virus that she has would kill her. And if they treat the virus the cancer will kill her. They gave her a couple days to a couple weeks to live. My heart is breaking. I sit here looking at her face trying to remember every contour of it, I breathe deeply against her skin trying to always remember her smell. Every time she speaks I try to listen for the different way she says certain words so that I never forget. I keep putting my lips against her warm skin because I never want to forget how that feels. I'm devastated and I'm hoping that I will wake up from this nightmare. We told Laney and she said she wanted to be the one to tell Kylee and Jacob. She told Jacob that when she's gone he is to be a good big brother to Kylee. And she thanked Kylee for being a great sister and her best friend. They all cried in each other's arms. I have never felt this type of pain in my life. We will be taking her home on hospice tomorrow and will be trying to let her have as much fun as she can handle. We will watch her blow out her eighth birthday candles knowing that she won't have a ninth. We will also ask Santa to come early this year because Laney has been such a good girl. Please pray for Laney and our family. Please pray for a miracle. We will be spending every second with her till God decides he needs another beautiful angel up in heaven."
What do you do when the darkness comes? I'm not talking about the small stuff, like the troublesome relationship that needs healing, or the mistake you made last week. I'm talking about the real heavy stuff...the darkness of your own child dying...on Christmas Day! What words can lighten this darkness? What can you do to let the light back in to such a dark time?
This family focused on filling Laney's remaining days with special moments. They turned their attention to Laney's bucket list. She wanted carolers at her home. She wanted to meet Taylor Swift, who is also a Wyomissing local. Taylor contacted Laney by video conference on Dec. 20, Laney's eighth birthday. The next day, about 10,000 carolers gathered outside her home in West Reading.
Laney died at 3:10am on Christmas morning.
After the Christmas morning gifts were opened, and my 7 year old bounced off the walls with joy at the sight of what Santa brought, my wife read the sad news posted on Facebook by her mother. She and I said a prayer, and we thanked God for the blessings we have. Then, I asked myself, "Does the Christmas story have enough light to shine through the darkness this family on the other side of town was experiencing at that moment?" I desperately wanted to say that it did. But, to be honest, I came to the confession that it did not. The Christmas story alone simply does not have the light that can cut through darkness such as this. I looked at my son, having so much fun on Christmas morning a little differently. I knew as I looked at him, that if a disease or some catastrophe had taken him from me that morning, the message of baby Jesus born in a manger simply does not have the power to brighten that darkness.