Tomorrow night is the longest night of the calendar year in the northern hemisphere – the winter solstice, when the earth reminds us how little light these days have. We mark the longest night at our church with a service called Blue Christmas, acknowledging the ways in which Christmas can also be devoid of light for many of us. For some, the reasons are obvious: grief over the loss of a loved one, broken marriages or other relationships, illness, or loneliness. For others, the reasons are a bit more ambiguous: a recognition that the world around you seems filled with happiness, and yet, there is a dull sadness or pain aching inside that is oddly out of place.
What is interesting about the Blue Christmas service is that there are years when I feel like I really need the service, and there are years that I do not realize how much I needed it until I am there. I think that is because there is a way in which our culture romanticizes Christmas, creating inevitable shortcomings. Even when you are happy, have created the perfect meal, are enjoying a long-held tradition, there is someone who is not there, some hurt that is not addressed, some bit of life that is unresolved. All of that is true most days – but the expectations of Christmas are unrealistic that cannot be met fully.
I think that is why I cling to Mary so much this time of year. Mary always lived in a world of joy and sorrow, of blessings and curses. The news of her pregnancy made her shout for joy, but also reminded her of how broken the world was to need such a savior. The joy she experienced of new birth was matched by the promise of sacrificial death. Mary lived in the “both-and;” the ambiguity always present in life. I like to suppose she cherished the joys as much as she could: the joys of a baby kicking in her womb, even as the neighbors stared and judged her unwedded state; the thrill of holding a new baby, even in the most rustic of accommodations; the miracle of new life, even if the miracle can only really happen in his death. It is in times like this time of year I long to hold Mary’s hand and walk with her for a while.
If you need a place to put your messy feelings this year, or you need a Mary to walk with you, I invite you to join us for our Blue Christmas service. But if you cannot make it tomorrow, know that Hickory Neck is a place that always has an open hand, ready to walk with you whatever the time of year is, and whatever you are facing. You are not alone.