This Advent has been a bit of an emotional rollercoaster. Here in Plainview, at the beginning of Advent we were just getting back into a “normal” rhythm post-Hurricane Sandy. One of my parishioners even noted that he realized I was “back in the game” when he got a flurry of church emails from me. On Second Advent, we had our Annual Meeting, and we were all pleasantly surprised that an Annual Meeting could actually be quite fun and reinvigorating. We were all heading toward the Christmas apex when the shooting in Newtown last Friday threw us for a loop. Advent Three was one of the most mournful Sundays we have had in a while. Many parishioners shared with me that they wanted to be in Church because they needed it. We shared sadness, fears, and tears. We lingered a little longer at Coffee Hour, needing the community of faith to help us process the event. We all seem to be struggling to hold on to the “Christmas spirit.”
In the midst of this emotional rollercoaster, St. Margaret’s heads into a four-day series of liturgies that leads us to the manger. I would be a little more anxious about how I was going to revive my own “Christmas spirit,” if the liturgies were not laid out as they are. I am relieved to start our four days with our Cemetery Memorial services. Every year we invite parishioners and family members who have loved ones buried in our cemetery to come for one of two memorial services. We pray the burial office, listen to a necrology, and sing Christmas hymns. The service is not simply for those whose names will be read. This service really is becoming a “Blue Christmas” service – a service to recognize that Christmas is not always the happy version of perfection that commercials would have us believe. Christmas is rife with baggage from our past, strife within families, feelings of loneliness or grief, and a general desire to pull inward during a season that tries to shove us outward. In the wake of the shooting in Newtown, I am especially grateful for these liturgies.
After we get through these services, we move into Advent Lessons and Carols the next day. On this last Sunday in Advent, we get the chance to really ease our way out of Advent and into Christmas by lingering in Advent through scripture and songs. I am grateful for the gentle transition and pray that it will allow me the space to turn my thoughts and emotions to the blessing of Christ’s incarnation.
Perhaps after these liturgies I will be ready for our family service on Christmas Eve. I am looking forward to the revamped service, in which our children and families will play an active leadership role in worship. In a time when we have been mourning the loss of God’s beloved children, I cannot think of a better way to embrace Jesus’ command to, “Let the little children come to me.” Perhaps by then I will be relieved to join the choir in singing those long-awaited Christmas hymns and to enter into the Holy Night of Christmas Midnight Mass.
Of course, if all of that does not do the trick, certainly the spoken service on Christmas Day might. The quiet of that service is a nice place to recenter in the midst of a crazy time. Sure, opening presents will be fun, especially with my more aware three-year old, but the quiet of church may be the safe haven we all need to ground the day in Christ Jesus. It is at times like this that I am grateful for the ways in which the Episcopal Church is a church rooted in rich liturgies. Come join us!