Several people have asked me about the Blue Christmas service we held Sunday afternoon. Many had not heard of such a concept before and were curious about what we were doing in the service. The crux of the service is a focus on those who struggle during this season. In a season of the year when we are told from most every corner that all is well, the reality is that it is not all well for many people. For many, this is the first Christmas since the death of a loved one. For some, they approach this Christmas with the realization that it might be the last Christmas they spent with someone dear to them. It is a year when many have lost jobs or finances are simply tighter than they have been in the past. The Blue Christmas service is a service to declare the reality that God came into the world in the person of Jesus in the midst of ALL the times of our lives. For those who were not able to attend, I have posted my sermon from the service below. May God grant you blessed peace in this season.
The focus Scripture passage is John 20:11-18
One of the greatest truths of Scripture reveals itself in the darkest hour of a young woman’s life, as she was too distressed even to watch for the dawn.
The one she had loved with all her heart and soul had died. The one who loved and accepted her unconditionally – who transformed her life and had become her very reason for living – was suddenly, inexplicably, gone. Devastated by her grief, Mary had come to the tomb alone, according to the Gospel of John, in the darkest hour before the dawn. She came with a broken heart, a shattered life. But when she left that dark place of grieving, some time later, she did so with new hope, and a renewed life. Because of what she had seen and experienced, in the very depths of her anguish.
We’ve all heard what Mary found there: an empty tomb, with all its promise of life everlasting. With its reminder that death is not the end, but a mysterious doorway into the fullness of life in the Spirit.
It’s a bit strange, at this time of the year, to be talking about the Easter story. Normally during this season, we’re talking about Advent things – John the Baptist in the wilderness calling people to repentance, promises from Isaiah about the one who would be coming into the world, visits from angels to another Mary and to Joseph – all the stories that lead up to the time when we remember the birth of Christ in the manger.
All of those stories are written and focused on in the light of expectation. Expectation of the joy of remembering and celebrating the coming of God into the world. Expectation of sharing this blessed time with family or friends. Expectation of hope, expectations of joy, expectations of not only saying Merry Christmas to another, but truly meaning it for ourselves as the words leave our mouths.
However, this season does not always work that way for everyone. For many, Christmas and other holidays are reminders of the ones who are not in our lives any longer. Chairs that were once the place where he always sat are now empty. Traditions of her singing a special Christmas carol are unchangeably different. It can be a reminder of things once a part of our lives that are no longer. A job that allowed a freedom during this season may be no more. Ways of celebrating the season may have changed dramatically due to a loss of a job, medical conditions, or a host of other things.
However, that is why it is essential to not only think of the Christmas season at this time, but to also remember its connection to the whole story of the person of Jesus. The story of one who lived his life closer to God than anyone ever has or ever will. The story of one who understands our needs. The one who lost loved ones and wept at their tombs. The one who heard the pain of those who were outcasts. The one who suffered great pain himself.
Those that followed Jesus experienced this pain as well. They gave up a great deal to follow their Lord and they wept at his death and many of them doubted even after they had heard the stories that he was somehow alive.
Mary, the young woman who came to the tomb that early morning, came in grief. She came and her grief increased because she initially felt that Jesus’ tomb had been robbed. Then, in the darkness of that hour, and of her soul, Mary at first perceives Jesus to be “the gardener.”
And so he is. For, as he lovingly calls her name, Jesus plants within Mary seeds of a new understanding, a new hope, a new life. By connecting with the one she has loved and lost, Mary is made whole, is able to move beyond her grief, and on with her life.
God often works that way, I believe. Planting subtle seeds of strength and hope, even in the midst of the most devastating times in our lives. Our task is to show up, as Mary did; to acknowledge our pain and grief, as Mary did; and to be open to being surprised by new dimensions of our lives and our love.
As much as each of us might yearn for it, we will likely not have the same face-to-face encounter with our lost loved ones. But we may encounter and be enriched by their lives in more subtle ways. In the memories we cherish; in the values they taught us; in words they spoke to us; even in the words they left unspoken which, had they been able, they would have. Seeds of love that may take time to come to fruition, but which can bless the rest of our lives
Poet Katherine Hawker writes:
Like a seed
Buried deep within the earth;
Covered by layers,
Disappointment, struggle, pain;
Buried yet stretching,
Growing and becoming,
Like a seed
Becoming new life.