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Blue Christmas is a service we offer every year.  This service is not always mainstream.  For many, Christmas is a season of uncomplicated joy.  But for others, Christmas can be a painful experience:  we mourn the memories of those who are no longer with us, the darkness of shorter days weighs on our mental health, or the unbounded exuberance of others creates a chasm between their happiness and our loneliness, sorrow, or pain.  And that does not account for the grief we may be experiencing otherwise – broken relationships, dissatisfaction with or lost employment, an unexpected medical diagnosis, or a dream unfulfilled.  And because Christmas cheer is all around us, we feel even more isolated in our sadness – as if we are alone in our feelings.  Only in services like these do we feel seen.

That is the experience of a “normal” Christmas.  This year, we have added nine months of a pandemic, a tumultuous political year, and civil unrest.  Suddenly, those of us who struggle with finding joy this Christmas find ourselves in a rising majority, not the minority.  I watched this year as hundreds of people decorated for Christmas in mid-November, in an effort to demand the experience of joy from a year that has been short on joy.  I can see the desperate need of a suffering people to find light somewhere, anywhere, during this holiday season.

Fortunately for us, the church is not silent on this experience.  The text we heard from Isaiah earlier says, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness–on them light has shined. You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder. For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.”  The prophet says all of this light and joy is possible for one reason:  “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us.”  Scripture tonight honors that there are seasons of darkness.  There are times when we live in deep darkness, devoid of joy.  There are times when burdens feel like weights on our shoulders, where oppressors keep us in positions of suffering.  Sometimes those times of darkness happen around holidays, and sometimes the memory of those dark moments invade our holidays.  To that experience, the prophet says, God brings us light.  God lifts burdens, God helps us recall joy, God strengthens us.  And perhaps, most importantly, God gives us the Christ Child – the only true source of light that can lighten the darkness.

I have always loved that the Christ Child was born in literal darkness.  The delivery of the Christ Child at night reminds us that even in the rustic setting of being outcast, joy comes to Mary and Joseph.  The delivery of the Christ Child at night reminds us that even in the mundane, lonely, and exhausting work of tending sheep through the night, unbounded joy can break forth in the form of angels with heavenly news.  The delivery of the Christ Child at night reminds us that even in the darkness of night, whispered conversations between strangers can bring joy to kindle and ponder in our hearts.

Tonight, by the manager, God sees your darkness, your suffering, your hurt.  The removal of that darkness, suffering, and hurt may not be possible in these next few days.  But in that darkness, God promises you the tiniest sliver of light.  Whether you find that light by seeing you are not alone in the darkness tonight, whether you find that light through the stories of others, or whether you find that light gazing on the miracle of the Christ Child, the light, however faint, is there, waiting for you, warming you ever so slightly, and starting the long, hard work of lifting your heavy burden.  And until you are ready to receive that light, the Church sits with you in the darkness tonight.  Amen.

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