Armodoxy for Today

“To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die,” says the author of Ecclesiastes (chapter 3). Nature has its rules, you are born, and one day you will die. Sometimes, however, time does not play by nature’s rules and children are the casualty. Appropriately, we refer to the death of children as “untimely.” As a priest in the ministry for over forty years, sadly I have had to officiate at too many funerals for children, while their broken families looked on in disbelief and torment. Even one such funeral would be “too many,” but illness, accidents, war and intolerance have taken away lives that were just about to begin, so “too many” is exactly what you understand it to be.

Back in 2006 I was called to officiate the funeral of a 15 year old named Vahagn. Classmates, friends, relatives, and just people who knew him or is family, packed our church in Hollywood. I remember the enormity of the crowd, filling the pews, the balcony, the aisles and even standing outside the windows on Vine Street, to be a part of this service. While most people knew or knew of Vahagn in his life, I had the unique vantage point; I got to know Vahagn through the expressions and tears of his loved ones and friends. Each story that was shared that day expressed the love someone had for this young man. It’s one thing to love, and quite another to be loved. Vahagn was both, he was loved because he loved. In that love, now I have come to know him.

Soon after his death, the family established a charitable foundation in his name with a specific goal to ensure that Vahagn’s passion for music, the arts, laughter and human joy will continue to flourish in the community he loved so dearly. Every year, the Foundation organizes an event such as runs, 5K walks or a tree planting ceremony. This morning in a park in Beverly Hills, Vahagn’s father remembered his son’s words, “There are no big or small stories, they all need to be told.” We planted a tree, and the area was designated as Vahagn Setian Grove. His father continued to explain that the tree will grow and provide shade to people for years to come, many who will never know Vahagn.

And so, a story was told this morning. Time stopped. Vahagn will forever be 15. Time continues, for new generations will enjoy this shade of the tree, the beauty of the grove, and the love of Vahagn.

Through the years, I have attended the annual gatherings. They are early enough on Sunday mornings so that I’ve been able to get in a 5K walk and still make it to church services. At one of the early memorials, they passed out a green rubber bracelet with a simple message from Vahagn, “Live, Love and Laugh.” I have worn that bracelet ever since. It is my daily reminder to live, love and laugh from this young but big life that had a great impact on so many, because he lived, loved and laughed.

This is the period of Advent, a time of preparation for Christmas. We are reminded that on Christmas a baby – the smallest and most humble of all – was born. He came into this world and told a simple story of love, harmony and respect. He too, lost his life early. We celebrate his message by living, loving and laughing, that is, enjoying this life.

We pray, Heavenly Father, you gave us the gift of life and we are grateful. In preparing for Christmas, instill in our hearts the love for the most simple among all of your creation. May we find the message of hope, faith and love in the smallest of stories. Bless our little children. Amen.

We continue the Advent Journey tomorrow and look forward to having you join us.

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