“Congregants heard no triumphant organ fanfares, no joyous Christmas carols, only quiet readings and prayers in a sanctuary lit with votives amid the dusk of late afternoon. The music was a soft guitar strumming, accompanying a humming solo of the hymn, In the Bleak Midwinter. The event was a Longest Night service at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church [in Louisville, Kentucky] — one of a growing number of congregations across the country trying to reach those who feel little comfort and joy amid the celebratory season. ‘It’s a chance to say, “My life is not totally fabulous,” and to hear God is there,’ said the Rev. Martha Holland, children’s minister at St. Andrew. Some congregations call it a Blue Christmas service, reflecting the sadness of the song popularized by Elvis Presley. Others call it the Longest Night because it occurs on or near the winter solstice, with the year’s least amount of daylight. …Some people may be grieving for a loved one with whom they shared Christmases past, Holland said. For others, who may have experienced divorce, abuse or other family trauma, the last thing they want to hear about is coming home for the holidays. Still others simply may be stressed because of holiday expectations. …Blue Christmas services have become more and more common in the past two decades with denominations and other groups even adapting traditional December liturgies for the purpose. At St. Andrew on Wednesday, participants lit four candles on the Advent wreath in honor of grief, pain, fear and struggle, a contrast to their usual representation of love, joy, peace and hope. Such services help revive the historic meanings of the season of Advent, said the Rev. Chip Hardwick…. Throughout history, the season, consisting of the four Sundays before Christmas, was a stark, penitential period focused on a longing for the coming of the kingdom of God — something inaugurated by Jesus’ birth but that awaits a future fulfillment, Hardwick said. But a cultural message that ‘everything is shiny and happy for Christmas’ has overwhelmed the season’s original meaning, he said. … ‘Advent is the time when we wait for the world to be what we want it to be.’ …Some may need the service in a given year while others come annually with some ‘ongoing pain,’ Holland said. The church began the service after a hit-and-run driver in 2008 killed two children who regularly attended. ‘It’s a comfort to a lot of people. A very upbeat, celebratory Christmas is like salt in the wounds.’ …The Rev. Ben Maas, pastor of St. Andrew, said the goal of the service there was not to provide neat answers for why suffering occurs but to assure parishioners of what is ultimately the message of Christmas: ‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it, no matter how much it seems like the darkness is winning,’ he said.” Peter Smith
“The light shines in the darkness”
Moving From Head to Heart
- If your Christmas is “shiny and happy” are you making room for those for whom it is otherwise?
- Is your congregation joining with the church around the world in waiting “for the world to be what we want it to be?”
- Can you practice waiting in hope, including when there are no “neat answers?”
God of compassion, sit with us in our pain.
Thanks for reading and sharing this blog! – Bill